Questions with Puron: Featured RIPS Member – Christine Ryan

Compiled by: Sarah Kammer

Questions with Puron is a social media series launched by the RIPS PR & Recruitment Committee to highlight the diverse views and professional strategies of the constituents of the Research Instruction and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS). Twice per month, our beloved penguin mascot poses a series of questions to one of the many librarians who make up RIPS. In March, Puron talked with Christine Ryan, Environmental Law Librarian and Associate Professor of Law at Vermont Law School.

Puron: What environmental law issue would you say most concerns penguins today and what resources do you recommend for researching?

Christine: Puron, I would say that the biggest threat to penguins today is climate change. And we humans need to do more for you! There is so much relevant information available!  I’d like to focus a bit and tell you about Environmental Law Research Sources, a database of free environmental resources/websites, selected by me in consultation with Vermont Law School environmental faculty and students. Specifically two categories: Climate Change and Oceans/Marine Law seem most relevant for you. In each category you’ll find a list of carefully selected websites, brief descriptions, and, of course, links to each site.

Puron: What’s something interesting about your work that most people outside your field wouldn’t know?

Christine: There is great variety in the work law librarians do. My position, for example, includes providing reference service, collection development, faculty liaison work, and instruction through my own credit courses and one-time guest lectures – all traditional law librarian functions. I also serve on the law school’s Curriculum and Student Services Committees, and am the faculty advisor to the Animal Law Society. I’m an Academic Advisor, a faculty supervisor for environmental internships, and serve as an employment reference for numerous students.  These responsibilities have developed over the years. I guess I’d summarize by saying that the role of law librarians is continually changing with the times and is getting better all the time!

Puron: What do you love about being a law librarian?

Christine: I love playing a part in enabling young people to pursue careers that will make a difference in the world. Our alums work in a variety of settings, including environmental non-profits, state and federal environmental agencies, such as (you, Puron, will be interested in knowing) NOAA, and in other government positions such as Senior Policy Advisor for Energy and Environment for a U.S. Senator. I, like most academic law librarians, feel gratified knowing our students are leaving law school with strong research skills.

Puron: What is your dream vacation destination for when it is safe to travel again?  

Christine: Edinburgh in quiet, grey November, every November!  In what other city would someone stumble upon the University Law Library (and be graciously invited in) while searching for an art gallery?  Or be welcomed into the National Library, given a Reader’s Card, and head up to MSS and Special Collections to examine and photograph a document retrieved just for you, from 1500, signed by your favorite king? Or be allowed into the gorgeous 1632 Parliament Square buildings, now housing Civil Courts and, after expressing interest, be handed one of those intriguing horsehair wigs by an amiable barrister?  And what better way to end the day than by enjoying a pint at the Jolly Judge pub?

Puron: What’s a recent photo that makes you smile?  

Even Vermont Senators can become fashion trend-setters!
Even Vermont Senators can be fashion trend-setters!

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Christine. If you would like to hear from more members, join the conversation on our Twitter RIPS-SIS (@RIPS_SIS) or connect with us on Facebook The PR & Recruitment Committee will also be reaching out to select members for participation in this series. If you would like to be featured, or want to recommend someone, please email Emma Wood at

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Interested in Connecting with RIPS-SIS Scholars? Check out the updated My Communities Page and Publication Resource

Guest Post by Kathleen Darvil

The RIPS-SIS Scholarship Committee has been busy this year working on ways to support your writing and scholarship.  We’d like to share with RIPS and AALL members two resources: the revitalized My Communities page and the updated publication resource.

Our My Communities Page

Are you looking to connect with other writers? If so, you should join the  RIPS Scholarship My Communities page.  You can connect with like-minded RIPS members in creating scholarship; post a discussion calling for collaborators, ask for feedback on your draft, or offer to review the work of your peers. Get alerts (and give alerts!) for writing events put on by RIPS and sister committees ALL-SIS, PEGA-SIS Beer & Edits, and other AALL sections. Use the resources in the Library to generate ideas and find scholarship about scholarship – we have a variety of how-to’s and guidelines generated by librarians and other experts. Make sure to fill out the Report Your Scholarship form in the Library so the RIPS Publications and Recruitment Committee can publicize your works to RIPS and the entire AALL community. To join, go to, click on Communities, search for “RIPS Scholarship Community, and click on “Join Community”.  We know writing is important to you – whether it’s for your personal growth, professional development, or both – but did you know your writing is also important to us as well? Share your thoughts, experiences, and ideas. Spread knowledge. 

Updated Publication Resources

If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing your name in print or if your job requires publishing, RIPS-SIS maintains two resources to help you during the publication process.  The first is the RIPS-SIS Publication Resource Spreadsheet.  The spreadsheet lists over forty journals that focus on law librarianship, librarianship, legal writing, and law schools.  The spreadsheet also contains information on whether the journal is peer-reviewed, whether the journal has article length requirements, what style manual the journal uses, and the journal’s website and contact information.  Second is the Publication Resource Handout, a concise document that lists publishers who focus on academic institutions, information science, and libraries.  The document divides the publishers into eight broad categories and then lists the publishers along with their website information and publishing focus.  You can find both resources on the RIPS-SIS website at

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Summer associate preparation

It’s March, and time to start preparing for the 2021 summer associates. Two years ago, this involved setting up training in each office, scheduling library orientation, as well as changes in the administrative assistant responsibilities. Last year, everything was virtual. Is 2021 going to be different from 2020?

As in past years, most of our summer associates will start on the same day. There are always some who start at a later date. This year, we will be doing training for all summer associates with one session for each service, i.e. one firmwide training session/service, and not individual office sessions. With one exception, all of our CALR services have transitioned to one firmwide rep, rather than having specific people assigned to specific offices. So, having a firmwide online training session makes a lot of sense. And, it’s a lot easier than having to schedule multiple sessions for each service.

Orientation will probably also be one large firmwide meeting with the library department, followed by breakout rooms or separate sessions for individual offices. That’s not much different from past years – it’s just online for everyone, rather than for those not in a specific office (i.e. videoconferencing from one office).

I don’t know yet whether the entire summer will be virtual or if some of it will be in-person. I think it will be a hybrid. Virtual but with the ability to be in the office if desired, or needed for a specific event. Our offices are open to those who want to come in, but no one is required to be in the office.

So, how is a summer associate to prepare? First, attend all CALR training sessions that you can while in law school. No one wants to be the one person who ran up a really large online research bill because of sloppy research techniques. Some vendors will allow summer associates to use their school credentials while working for the law firm. Frequently, academic access varies from specific firm access, but there’s quite a bit of overlap for the basic primary law research. And be prepared for a question that doesn’t have a clear cut answer. Be able to take the research and make some inferences based on the specific fact situation.

Second, attend all training sessions at the firm. Yes, you know how to use the CALR systems. But our reps know the ins and outs of our contracts, and can give you specific guidance on what you can access. And they are highly trained in COST-EFFECTIVE research, and have plenty of tips for you. Yes, almost everything is flat-rate, but we want to know what the client is costing us, whether it goes on the bill or not. And, we have regular research assistance times for each service, time set aside for questions from our firm. Take advantage of it – they won’t give you the answer, just guidance on how to get to the answer.

Attend the orientation even if you never plan to be in the office or touch a book. (Yes, most of our offices still have books.) Get to know the researchers, especially those in your specific office. We have insights into the attorneys, as well as knowing who to go to for non-research related questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can ask the researchers [almost] anything. But you should also ask the assigning attorney questions about projects. For example, can you do online research, and, if so, what billing number should be used, is there a preference for one system over another, etc. The research staff is available to help you, and we want to make you look good. I’ve never had an attorney be concerned that a summer associate was asking for help from the library, but I have had attorneys be concerned that a summer associate NEVER contacted the library during the entire summer. Our attorneys know we provide value, and they take full advantage of that fact, so summer associates should as well.

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Questions with Puron: Featured RIPS Member – Clare Gaynor Willis

Compiled by: Shari Berkowitz Duff

Questions with Puron is a social media series launched by the RIPS PR & Recruitment Committee to highlight the diverse views and professional strategies of the constituents of Research Instruction and Patron Services Special Interest Section (RIPS-SIS). Twice per month, our beloved penguin mascot poses a series of questions to one of the many librarians who make up RIPS. Puron talked with Clare Gaynor Willis, Research & Instructional Services Librarian, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago, IL

Puron: Share your favorite new (or new-to-you) resource for 2020! [could be a website, database, secondary source, anything]

Clare: I don’t think I discovered much that was new except for a lot of COVID-tracking websites. has a calculator that lets you enter your possible activity, your location, how close people are, what mask everyone is wearing, and it will calculate your COVID risk.  It pretty much always tells me what I already thought, but it’s nice to have some science behind it! 

Puron: What brought you to law libraries?

Clare: What brought me to law libraries was finding the intersection between a love of the law and a love of research.  I’ve always loved learning new things.  I was pre-law in undergrad at the University of Illinois when I met a law librarian in a law elective course, Paul Healey.  He was kind enough to let me interview him.  It seemed like an incredible job and I debated applying to grad school after undergrad, but there was a lot of momentum behind going to law school first, so I did that instead.  So law libraries were always plan A, it just took me a while to get back to that.

Puron: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I love to bake and cook.  It challenges me, nourishes my family, and allows me to experience new things in a time when every day can feel the same!

Puron: Favorite #AALL2020 session? Or a cool recent webinar?

Clare: Last year, I attended a webinar on trauma-informed pedagogy that made a huge difference in my teaching.  It was much more transformational than everything that I learned about educational technology, although that was important as well.  The most important takeaways were that people in trauma have less mental bandwidth, so you need to cut down on things that take mental energy, and that people in trauma can develop resilience if you show them how they are building on their strengths rather than fixing something that is wrong with them.  Those principles guided how I taught ALR in fall 2020 and I think it was one of my best semesters, pandemic or not.

Puron: What’s a professional achievement you’re proud of?

Clare: I’m very proud of my service as president of the Chicago Association of Law Libraries.  CALL is an amazing, vibrant group of smart librarians who are always willing to help each other and learn from each other.  Even getting their vote felt like a huge accomplishment.  I helped guide the organization towards offering more continuing education, including webinars.  I also loosened up the rule on in-person Executive Board meetings to allow for occasional conference calls.  I think our embrace of those changes allowed the organization to pivot to online meetings more easily.  Not that I don’t miss the quarterly lunch meetings!

Puron: What does reference look like for you?

Clare: Reference also looks like me at the window with a cat!  More than that, I think it looks like a lot of listening.  People rarely ask for the thing they actually want. 

Puron: How does reference or instruction assist with access to justice for you?

Clare: Instruction lets me teach the attorneys who will serve the public.  I’m always conscious that some of my students will go on to clerkships and public interest jobs.  I believe that Advanced Legal Research will make them more effective advocates for the public interest.  But I don’t limit access to justice discussions to those students.  I usually have a discussion about whether PACER should be free and I bring in public interest and big law firm lawyers and librarians to talk about cost-effective research.  These discussions may be one of the first times that law students have to confront the fact that some clients can afford more research than others.  Once they see that it is not fair, I think that allows them an opportunity to examine other unfairness in the justice system. 

What’s something interesting about your work [in a government library or firm library, etc.] that most people outside the field wouldn’t know?

I don’t think people know how much we get to learn about how many things. I just spent two days learning about models of Senate voting behavior in political science literature.  About a month ago, I researched statistics about how schools desegregated and re-segregated over the past 60 years.  I learned about different historical definitions of “cemetery” and “churchyard” last year.  Serving many faculty members and students and their many research agendas allows me a peek into a variety of fields of inquiry.  If I was an attorney or a law professor, I’d have to specialize.  Being a librarian lets you research a little bit of everything.   

Puron: What is your dream vacation destination for when it is safe to travel again?

Clare: I go back and forth on this.  Part of me just wants to go back to somewhere that I’ve loved before like Maine.  Part of me wants to take my annual trip to Wisconsin Dells with good friends from high school and college because I missed them last year.  And part of me would like to take the trip to Poland that was cancelled very early in the pandemic.  But that was supposed to be a trip with students taking a course with me and studying Polish law and politics.  I can never get that back again.  And that hurts quite a bit, so maybe I should focus on Wisconsin Dells for now.

Puron: What is your favorite podcast?

Clare: I listen to dozens of podcasts, even now that I’m not commuting, so this is a tough one.  There is only one that I listen to right away when I see a new one in my feed:  Reply All.  It’s always fascinating, often hilarious, and pretty much required listening if you’re unable to follow the minutia of what’s going on in internet culture and subcultures.  They were covering QAnon long before I heard the conspiracy discussed anywhere else. 

Puron: What is your favorite movie?

Clare: The Royal Tenenbaums.  I love Wes Anderson’s movies.  They get a lot of attention for being stylish (see the Accidentally Wes Anderson Instagram feed), but his movies pack an incredible, albeit incredibly understated, emotional punch.  They are poignant and can be extremely sad while also being extremely funny and silly.  Someday, he will get a lifetime achievement Oscar and everyone will wonder why he didn’t ever win Best Director.

Puron: What is your favorite app (or what app can’t you live without)?

Clare: The app I can’t live without is probably the Outlook app, but that’s not a very fun answer.  The other answer would be Les Mills On-Demand Apple TV app.  Exercise has kept me sane during quarantine. 

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Clare. If you would like to hear from more members, join the conversation on our Twitter RIPS-SIS (@RIPS_SIS) or connect with us on Facebook The PR & Recruitment Committee will also be reaching out to select members for participation in this series. If you would like to be featured, or want to recommend someone, please email Emma Wood at

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What and How Might a Better Bar Test?: A Brief Look at IAALS’ “Building a Better Bar” Project

With the February bar exam falling last week, it seemed appropriate to spend part of those days reading through the Building a Better Bar project report. In a first-of-its-kind study, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, in partnership with The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, conducted 50 focus groups in 12 U.S. states to gather insights into what sort of “minimum competence” lawyers need to practice.

Looking first at prior research surrounding the knowledge, skills and judgment needed to represent clients, two important conclusions were reached. First, in study after study, cognitive skills like communication, research, legal analysis, and critical thinking were ranked as more important than knowledge of doctrinal law. And second, since most prior research had relied upon surveys, it unfortunately provided little detail about precisely how lawyers acquire the competencies they need. (Hint: It’s not through preparing for the exam as it stands!)

Recognizing that the legal profession lacked “a clear, explicit understanding of the minimum competence needed to practice law and how it should be tested,” the project identifies a critical gap and seeks to fill it with “a fair, evidence-based definition of minimum competence” along with recommendations for how the legal licensing process need change.

The report suggests that minimum competence consists of twelve interlocking components, or “building blocks”:

  1. The ability to act professionally and in accordance with the rules of professional conduct
  2. An understanding of legal processes and sources of law
  3. An understanding of threshold concepts in many subjects
  4. The ability to interpret legal materials
  5. The ability to interact effectively with clients
  6. The ability to identify legal issues
  7. The ability to conduct research
  8. The ability to communicate as a lawyer
  9. The ability to see the “big picture” of client matters
  10. The ability to manage a law-related workload responsibly
  11. The ability to cope with the stresses of legal practice
  12. The ability to pursue self-directed learning

One need not read the report in its entirety to acknowledge the value of these skills in practice. In the same way that the AALL Principles & Standards for Legal Research Competency can be used to measure students’ abilities to effectively research the law, so too could these building blocks operate to better prepare new lawyers for practice. And, unlike as is the case now, the bundle of skills tested would prove valuable in each and every practice area.

The inclusion of multiple building blocks testing skills that have yet to be incorporated in the exam seems to me a critical improvement. Aren’t the abilities to interact effectively with clients, conduct research, pursue self-directed learning, etc. necessary to succeed as a new lawyer? Thus, shouldn’t we be specifically testing those abilities (in the best ways possible)?

The report further proposes ten recommendations that stakeholders should consider in their efforts to move toward a better exam:

  1. Written exams are not well suited to assessing all aspects of minimum competence. Where written exams are used, they should be complemented by other forms of assessment.
  2. Multiple choice exams should be used sparingly, if at all.
  3. Eliminate essay questions from written exams and substitute more performance tests.
  4. If jurisdictions retain essay and/or multiple choice questions, those questions should be open book.
  5. Where written exams are used, provide more time for all components.
  6. Candidates for licensure should be required to complete coursework that develops their ability to interact effectively with clients.
  7. Candidates for licensure should be required to complete coursework that develops their ability to negotiate.
  8. Candidates for licensure should be required to complete coursework that focuses on the lawyer’s responsibility to promote and protect the quality of justice.
  9. Candidates for licensure should be required to complete closely supervised clinical and/or externship work.
  10. A standing working group made up of legal educators, judges, practitioners, law students, and clients should be formed to review the twelve building blocks and design an evidence-based licensing system that is valid, reliable, and fair to all candidates.

Based on my own experiences, I absolutely agree that skills like research, writing and analysis are most important as a new lawyer, and I certainly don’t feel the bar exam adequately sought or operated to even remotely capture the extent to which I had developed those skills. In fact, when I took the bar, the multistate performance test, which has always seemed to me the most practical piece of the exam—that piece which “most closely parallels the work [new lawyers] do during the first year of practice”—was worth only ten percent of the exam. TEN! And even with the UBE, while twenty percent is admittedly an improvement, it remains far from reasonable, nor does it touch upon a number of the aforementioned skillsets new lawyers so desperately need.

In further reflecting on my experiences, I couldn’t help but think back to those numerous laws (temporarily) committed to memory, and I can’t say I believe this was a relevant exercise for practice either. While I certainly agree that new lawyers need develop a familiarity with foundational legal principles, like focus group participants, I think extensive, rote memorization can and does “distract new lawyers from developing the competencies they [truly] need.”

You might be wondering: How is the ability to conduct research broken down in the report? It is divided into four tasks, as new lawyers stated they needed to be able to (i) answer specific legal questions posed by clients or supervisors, (ii) check or update their knowledge of legal doctrine, (iii) acquire facts and non-legal information for client matters, and (iv) find information about local rules or practices. The report goes on to suggest that, unlike existing performance tests, additional performance tests could be adapted to measure research abilities. “Rather than providing closed universe files to candidates for every performance test question,” for instance, “jurisdictions could require candidates to conduct their own research on one or more of these exercises.”

Regarding the report’s final recommendations, it makes sense that several of the proposed building blocks cannot be adequately tested on a written exam, and that we should thus consider additional exam components such as coursework and clinical experience. Of course, as teaching librarians, we need also be asking ourselves how we can seek to incorporate multiple building blocks—and not solely the ability to research—in our own classrooms.

As a final note, I point to the report’s inclusion of multiple licensing system examples, including test-, experience-, and diploma-centered systems. I encourage you to explore the report and resources below and to similarly ask whether there is indeed a better way.


Deborah Jones Merritt & Logan Cornett, Building a Better Bar: The Twelve Building Blocks of Minimum Competence, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System,

Logan Cornett et al., Building a Better Bar: Capturing Minimum Competence, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System,

Logan Cornett, IAALS Study Reveals the Building Blocks of Minimum Competence, Recommends Changes to Bar Exam and Lawyer Licensing, IAALS Blog (Oct. 29, 2020),

Logan Cornett & Zachariah DeMeola, Expert Opinion: No Small Measures: We Must Radically Reconsider Lawyer Licensure and the Bar Exam, IAALS Blog (Feb. 24, 2021),

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