The American legal landscape is transforming, a process in large part precipitated by the national economic downturn that began unfolding in 2007. The American Bar Association, law schools, and other legal institutions are desperately trying to respond to this transformation, all in an effort to make sure the legal educational system continues to prepare students for a shifting job market. One substantial change being addressed is the demand for “practice ready” graduates who are prepared to handle real-world legal transactions right out of the gate instead of needing extensive on-the-job training during their associate years. This “practice ready” push has created an exceptional opportunity for law librarians to address the disconnect between the skills needed to conduct research for legal practice and the skills currently taught in law schools.
At many law schools, librarians teach the first-year legal research class, advanced legal research courses, or both. Even at institutions where this is not the case, librarians provide students with research and reference services through class presentations, one-on-one consultations, and reference desk interactions. Thus, academic law librarians are well-positioned to ensure that students graduate with the legal research skills needed for successful practice. However, because many academic law librarians are not currently practicing law, they are not aware of contemporary issues in legal practice and the accompanying research needs. Law firm librarians can fill this knowledge gap since they have expertise in the research skills attorneys need for practice; they are the individuals tasked with guiding new associates through research tasks and are also central players in firm resource selection and related contract negotiations.
Academic and law firm librarians can tackle the disparity between research skills taught in law school and research skills needed for practice by creating avenues of communication. A few ways to open these avenues of communication include getting in touch with librarians on the other end of the law librarianship spectrum through your local AALL chapter, attending (or even planning!) an event at which academic and firm librarians can discuss “practice ready” issues (past examples include the Chicago Association of Law Libraries’ May 2014 “Bridging the Gap Between Law School and Practice” program and the AALL 2014 conference program “Finding Common Ground: Linking Law Student Learning with Law Firm Research Needs”), or just talking with a librarian from a firm or a university over coffee. In addition, there is a variety of scholarship that addresses this subject and which can provide guidance for developing legal curriculum that will produce “practice ready” researchers. Here is a short list of relevant articles:
- Sheila F. Miller, Using an Alumni Survey to Assess Whether Skills Teaching Aligns with Alumni Practice (March 19, 2013).
- David L. Armond & Shawn G. Nevers, The Practitioners’ Council: Connecting Legal Research Instruction and Current Legal Research Practice, 103 Law Libr. J. 575 (2011)
- Aliza B. Kaplan & Kathleen Darvil, Think (and Practice) Like a Lawyer: Legal Research for the New Millennials, 8 Legal Comm. & Rhetoric: JALWD 153 (2011)
- Patrick Meyer, Law Firm Legal Research Requirements for New Attorneys (2012). Available at SSRN.
- The ALL-SIS Task Force on Identifying Skills and Knowledge for Practice has published on its website several interesting reports of surveys comparing attorney and law librarian perceptions of what research skills are needed for successful practice and how well new associates have mastered these skills.
The goal of preparing new attorneys to be “practice ready” and able to perform real-world research right out of school is beneficial for all involved – academic librarians, firm librarians, and students. A true win-win-win!