Summer Associates – Yet Again

by Caren Luckie

Summer associates are a great source/inspiration for blog posts, especially for law firm librarians like me.  It’s not always complaining about them, they can be a help to overworked firm librarians and researchers.

During lunch today with other librarian colleagues (another law firm librarian and an academic librarian), we were discussing the summer associates.  We started by saying that the summer associates should be getting some of the projects that we would have otherwise received.  Which frees us up for other projects, administrative tasks, etc.  I really do appreciate the fact that the summer associates (“Summers”) can take some of the projects.   Yes, there are still quite a few social events for the Summers, but we do expect them to do substantive legal work.   We have both 1L and 2L students from several different law schools.

But, there are some worrisome facets of having the Summers here.   This year, I’ve only had 2 of them ask me questions – each one had one question.  That’s all I’ve seen of them since they arrived in late May.  And that worries me.  And, what should be troubling to any summer associate reading this, it also troubled one of the partners who oversees the Summers.  The library should be one of the first stops/contact points when they’re given an assignment.  We’re not going to do it for them, but we can point them to some resources or help with search strategies, and remind them about some of the cost-effective searching techniques.  We’ve had horror stories in the past where a summer associate (and sometimes a law firm associate, as well) has run up large online research bills, and, while more and more is within contract, our Summers are using firm passwords, not their law school passwords; I don’t want any surprise calls from a billing partner.

One of my Summers came in with a question (yes, one of the two that I’ve had so far) about court opinions.  She had found an appellate court decision that was on point for the facts, but the appellate court went against our position.  So, she wanted to see what the lower court judge had said.  She was very surprised to learn that the trial courts don’t issue opinions similar to appellate decisions.  When this was related at lunch, my law school colleague just shook her head.

Summer associates take note, get to know the librarians both at your summer job and at school.  Take advantage of the law school folks – whether it’s for learning how to use the fancy printer, how to get a study carrel, or for research help.  They’re not going to explain how to use a print reporter, unless it’s in a first year research class, they’ll show you the practical things you need to know to succeed.  If you’re working in a law firm, take advantage of the firm librarian/researcher.  We can make you look really good.

On that note, law students, take advantage of the online services that don’t charge for research.  Students have access to [almost] everything during law school, with far more expansive contracts than the law firms.  Learn which ones charge per search and which ones do not.  Westlaw and Lexis charge per search, and many law firms still try to bill back some of the costs.  Take advantage of the reps both during your summer at a firm and during law school.  Cost-effective searching is extremely important.

Not everything charges for research, many resources are paid for on an annual subscription and there’s no limit to how much they can be used.  Cheetah, Hein, PLI, and Bloomberg do not charge for research (there are some outside docket costs for Bloomberg, but that’s another blog post).  Bar associations offer access to Fastcase and/or Casemaker as part of bar membership.  The large law firms have a multitude of resources, and the county law libraries may offer some free access to different services, for those hanging out their own shingle.  Yes, training will be offered at a firm, but learning it in school gives a student a head start out in the real world.  And, you’ll have a working knowledge of the system in case you can’t attend the training.

How does a law student, or summer associate, know what’s available at their school or firm?  Ask a librarian!

About czluckie

Research Attorney at Jackson Walker LLP
This entry was posted in Information Literacy, Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Summer Associates – Yet Again

  1. A good reminder for new associates too. And, just one fine point of clarification: law school reference librarians definitely will help you if you are confused about a print reporter or anything else about legal research. We expect to get questions from our “summers” and recent grads.

    • czluckie says:

      I totally agree! One of our local law schools has trouble getting students to come to orientation, so they tout the practical aspects of using the library, as opposed to the research side. But yes, law school reference librarians are a great resource for all things related to legal research!

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