The most recent issue of the Canadian Law Library Review
(vol. 30, no. 2, summer 2005 - print subscription) has 2 articles dealing with the teaching of legal research skills.
Pamela Seguin, member of the 2005 Osgoode Hall Law School graduating class, shares her thoughts and comments about legal research in the article "Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse: A Law Student's Perspective on Developing Legal Information Literacy" (pp.80-83).
Seguin argues for offering in-depth legal research courses as part of the upper-year curriculum in conjunction with substantive writing projects. Unfortunately, she writes that most advanced research courses are elective and students consider them as being directed towards people interested in academia.
Interestingly, Seguin comments on the under-utilization of law librarians in law schools and argues for ensuring that the library is organized as a comfortable and welcoming social space, which includes "flexible food and drink policies, comfortable seating, and adequate lighting."
In her article "Making Something Out of Nothing: Using the Essay to Teach Legal Research" (pp.76-78), Queen's University Law Reference Librarian Nancy McCormack describes the approach taken at her institution to get around the weaknesses of the traditional "egg hunt" assignment (where students answer a series of questions that require them to hunt through different kinds of legal literature).
At Queen's, the legal research skills courses are for first year students and are taught by the librarians.
Lectures all begin with concrete fact situations or with a question dealing with how case law is generated throughout the life of an action: at the interlocutroty dispute stage, at the end of trial, upon appeal etc. Lectures tackle the court and tribunal systems, the different kinds of authority (binding vs. persuasive), citation etc.
For the final lecture, a library assignment is handed out requiring first year students to choose a legal issue from a class like torts or contracts and write a paper comparing how the print versions of the Canadian Abridgment
and the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest
deal with that issue, starting off with the index.
"Students are introduced to new sources and they are made to think like researchers, like indexers and like librarians at the same time."
According to the author, the results obtained reveal that students learn more this way and they use the newly acquired research and analytical skills later on during the term when asked to write their first substantive class assignments.
Labels: legal research and writing