by Jamie Baker
In the typical legal research & writing curriculum, it can be very difficult to delve further into research topics because of time constraints, and the students generally leave their legal research & writing programs with only surface-level legal research skills. To overcome these time constraints and to create competent legal researchers, there are a handful of law libraries that have created legal research certificate programs as a companion to the formal law school curriculum. These certificate programs offer a comprehensive legal research curriculum that builds on what the students learn in their legal research & writing programs and also allows law librarians to spend more time on complex legal research topics.
Most of these programs are non-credit programs that are not noted on official transcripts. There are many ways to administer these programs, and each of the programs bears its own nuanced “graduation” requirements and curricular offerings. For example, Texas Tech University School of Law Library requires students to fulfill 30 hours of instruction to graduate from the program. Students must take 8 out of 12 required courses. Students must also take 2 out of 8 elective courses. Each course is 3 hours long with at least 1 hour devoted to hands-on exercises. The required courses at Texas Tech include:
- Texas Statutory Research
- Developing a Research Strategy
- Using Citators
- Texas Administrative Materials
- Fundamentals of Bloomberg Law, Lexis Advance, and WestlawNext
- Federal Statutory Research
- Federal Legislative History
- Case Finding Tools
- Commercial v. Free Resources
- Evaluating Resources
- Texas Legislative History
- Fundamentals of Boolean Searching
The elective courses include:
- Blue & Green Book Survival Skills
- Secondary Sources
- Federal Administrative Materials
- Practice & Litigation Materials
- Foreign & International Law
- Advanced Federal Legislative History
- Special Topics
The University of Denver Sturm College of Law Library offers both a basic legal research certificate and an advanced legal research certificate. For the Certificate of Basic Legal Research, students are required to attend 8 classes and complete post-class assignments. For the Certificate of Advanced Legal Research, the students must attend 10 classes and complete post-class assignments. For both certificates, classes are one-hour in length and generally occur during the lunch hour. The classes for the Certificate of Basic Legal Research include statutory research, case law ressearch, secondary sources, strategies and other topics. The classes for the Certificate of Advanced Legal Research include regulatory research, federal and state legislative, dockets, foreign and international research, and subject-specific research. The list is extensive.
For non-credit classes that are completed on a voluntary basis, these programs have been generally well-attended. At Texas Tech University School of Law Library, since 2006, there have been 95 certificates earned and a total of 439 participants. The University of Denver Sturm College of Law Library has had 216 total graduates since the program started in 2012 and 653 total participants. Oklahoma City University School of Law Library has given awards to 113 students since 2011 and 1,053 total participants.
Other law libraries that offer these types of programs include:
- Boston University School of Law Libraries
- Washington & Lee School of Law Library
- Cleveland-Marshall School of Law Library
- Hastings Law Library
Certificate and other similar programs have the capacity to reach a large number of students, which may not be feasible in a credit-bearing advanced legal research course. While these programs help create competent legal researchers, the certificate programs may also help in hiring. A new white paper called Hiring Partners Reveal New Attorney Readiness For Real World Practice states that a “majority (60+%) [of respondents to a survey] agreed that a certification in Research Skills, Writing/Drafting Skills, or Transactional Skills would be valuable on a candidate’s resume.” If your law library has the resources to start a certification program, there is much to be gained.