Monday, August 29, 2011

Lessons from the Law Library - The 'Answer' Does Not Exist

Last Friday on Slaw.ca, library school intern Amanda (Andie) Bulman shared some of what she learned as a student reference assistant at the Sir James Dunn Law Library at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

She outlines 5 lessons, all of which I can identify with, but I think Lesson #2 is the most important one:
"Sometimes “The Answer” does not exist. In June slews of undergraduates were taking a business law course and came to the library on a semi-regular basis. They frequently requested my help in searching for case law or legislation that had very specific criteria and I frequently went home feeling frustrated by my inability to find 'the answer'. I eventually realized that it is unlikely that 'the answer' would be found in a single document. Legal research is a time consuming process and well-crafted legal arguments are usually constructed from a variety of resources. The answer is a myth. Legal research rarely works that way."
I helped teach an intro to legal research class last year at a local university and for me, that was the often the hardest lesson to get many of the first year students to understand (and accept).

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:34 pm

2 Comments:

Blogger John Hightower said...

Yes, sometimes the answer does not exist. Often, legal researchers are asked to prove a negative--always a difficult proposition. Westlaw Next is an extremely poor tool for doing this.

9:44 am  
Blogger Wendy Reynolds said...

Nothing is harder. It's a balancing act - have you consulted enough sources, considered enough synonyms, thought hard enough? This is particularly hard for inexperienced researchers - librarians or lawyers - when do you know that "there's nothing" is the right answer?

Unfortunately, there is also the opposite case, when a researcher looks at an online source or two and throws in the towel.

9:21 am  

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