Revamping a Dry Class Topic

by Nicole Downing

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I guest lectured in a fellow librarian’s Advanced Legal Research (ALR) course last semester while he was at a conference. My topic for the class was “Finding People and Companies.” I put together my lesson with the help of an extensive collection of past class lectures. The class went as planned – I covered the basic resources and the students completed an in-class exercise. However, after the lecture, I felt like the students hadn’t been that interested in the topic. Not all lectures have the students on the edge of their seats. But Company Research? A necessary skill for the buzz-worthy topic of competitive intelligence and the complicated process of due diligence? There had to be a more exciting and compelling way to teach it in my upcoming ALR course.

In the midst of course planning over the summer, I attended the AALL Annual Meeting. What caught my eye were a few different program sessions on competitive intelligence. I decided to attend the sessions with the goal of improving my class session on company research.

I got more than I had hoped for! I attended two sessions on the topic, one more focused on teaching skills and the other focused on finding skills. In “Due Diligence and Competitive Intelligence: The ‘New’ Practice-Ready Skills,” presenters Kathleen Agno, Susan Catterall, and Matthew Morrison explained the need for practice skills in the area of business development for new lawyers. Catterall and Morrison discussed research courses that devote a significant portion of time to these skills. In “Identifying Competitive Intelligence in Public Filings: 30 Ways to Find the What, Where, Why, and How,” presenters Carolyn Hersch, Agnes Mattis, and Christoper Walunas provided an in-depth look at how SEC filings act as a research tool for competitive intelligence.

Between the two program sessions, I had a wealth of new knowledge and resources that I could use to enhance my own teaching on the topic. The sessions also persuaded me that these skills deserved more time and focus than I could provide in a single class session. I reworked my syllabus to devote two class sessions and a graded assignment to company research.

Instead of editing my old slides, I started fresh armed with notes and recordings from the sessions I had attended. I identified objectives for company research and the skills I would be assessing. Then I got to work streamlining the course work discussed into two class sessions for a total of about 3 hours of teaching. The first class session placed company research in a practical setting with a discussion of competitive intelligence and due diligence research and what your research goals would be for each. The second class session focused on the different sources of the information available to meet those goals.

I designed a company client pitch for their assessment, based off a past assignment used in the Advanced Legal Research: Corporate and Transactional course taught at my law school. I thought the assignment would be a nice way to break up the monotony of research memos, which are the main type of graded assignments the students receive in my ALR class.

The client pitch allowed me to test multiple skills from the company research classes, such as locating company structure, company reports, and industry reports. It also allowed me to assess skills from my other practice-focused classes, such as finding people, litigation analytics, court records, and news. As Catterall mentioned, the real challenge for the students is to synthesize the vast amount of information available into a short company profile and use their analytical skills to create a pitch from their knowledge of the company and the law firm.

This experience has allowed me to think more broadly about how useful conference sessions can be. While I was not designing a full research course on this topic like that modeled in “Due Diligence and Competitive Intelligence” or undertaking extensive company research like the firm librarians in “Identifying Competitive Intelligence in Public Filings,” I was able to use information from both sessions to enhance how I taught one topic in my ALR class.

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