Legal Research as a Fundamental Skill: A Lifeboat for Students and Law Schools

“Legal Research as a Fundamental Skill: A Lifeboat for Students and Law Schools”

University of Baltimore Law Review, Vol. 39, pp. 175-227, Winter 2009

SARAH VALENTINE, City University of New York – CUNY School of Law

This article argues that current legal research education is dangerously deficient and demonstrates how it can be reconceptualized to become a synergistic first year course that supports the learning of doctrine and legal analysis, as well as necessary research skills in accordance with recent suggestions by the ABA, the authors of the Carnegie Report, and other legal commentators.

Most law schools provide legal research instruction that is not only ineffective in teaching basic research skills but is potentially hazardous to students attempting to learn legal analysis. The ability to electronically search and access law has created a paradigm shift that has affected the very framework of the law as it has been understood and taught for the past one hundred and thirty years. The very act of accessing the law electronically restructures the law itself. It erodes the idea that one can learn the law from the scientific study of readily agreed upon precedent. As the historical understanding of law shifts, the ability to teach students to “think like lawyers” using the structured concepts of the legal system developed in the 1880s, but still relied on by law professors today, begins to collapse.

Creating an excellent legal research course is not necessarily difficult. It requires that legal research be taught as both a fundamental legal skill, requiring analysis and doctrinal knowledge and as a fundamental lawyering skill, integrated into the entire first year curriculum, not merely linked to legal writing. In addition, it must teach information literacy skills and the teaching should be informed with adult learning methodologies. Such a course provides students not only with the necessary research skills for law practice, but assists them in building the conceptual framework necessary for legal analysis.

 

Source:  LSN Legal Writing Vol. 5 No. 3,  02/02/2010

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