Law schools generally require two or three research & writing courses before graduation. Some law students will actively seek electives that provide additional training with a research component, but many students shy away from these courses. With the limited curriculum devoted to legal research, we are only skimming the surface of student comprehension. And, as noted in a recent RIPS Blog post, if we try to show the students too much information at once, it can lead to information anxiety.
But the more often students see research on a different legal issue, with a different database, or in a different source, the more likely it is they will start to understand how to perform research efficiently and effectively no matter what resources they have access to upon graduation. Students need as much practice with research as possible before graduation to really understand the concepts and develop a research strategy. After all, over 30% of a new attorney’s time is spent doing legal research.
It is important for law faculty and curriculum committees to understand how integral legal research is to the success of graduates, and they should “buy in” to legal-research instruction across the curriculum. Now is the perfect time to promote researching across the curriculum because it comports with revised ABA Standard 302:
Standard 302. LEARNING OUTCOMES
A law school shall establish learning outcomes that shall, at a minimum, include competency in the following:
(b) Legal analysis and reasoning, legal research, problem-solving, and written and oral communication in the legal context.
To comply with the revised standard, some law schools are starting to assess students’ learning outcomes throughout the term instead of relying on one comprehensive final exam at the end of the term. These assessments, which take place in each law school class, can easily require a legal research component to offer more research instruction and practice for the students. The students will continue to hone their legal research skills by contextualizing and evaluating information based on the class’s subject area. This instruction can come from law librarians visiting law school classes to show the students resources that are useful for that particular area of law, or law faculty could provide research instruction themselves.
For more information and a discussion of the challenges and suggestions for implementation see Brooke J. Bowman, Researching Across the Curriculum: The Road Must Continue Beyond the First Year, 61 Okla. L. Rev. 503 (2009).