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Step Right Up: Using Consumer Decision Making Theory to Teach Research Process in the Electronic Age

27 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2008 Last revised: 12 Dec 2012

Amy E. Sloan

University of Baltimore - School of Law

Date Written: 2008


The legal academy has framed legal research as a professional skill, and much research pedagogy centers around replicating a controlled professional environment to allow students to learn how to do research by simulating legal practice. Although this is a valid way to conceptualize research, it is not the only way. Another way to conceptualize research is as a consumer transaction. Legal information is, in many ways, a product that information providers market to lawyers and students, as the promotions and contests that LexisNexis and Westlaw sponsor demonstrate. Once legal information is understood as a product, the process of research can be seen as a purchase transaction, and research instruction can be seen as a form of consumer education.

This article approaches research from a consumer perspective. It sets the stage by explaining why legal information is a consumer product and analyzing changes in the information marketplace that have affected research process. The article then explains consumer decision making theory. It demonstrates why this is an appropriate vehicle for describing the research process and explains the marketing, cultural, psychological, situational, personal, and social influences that affect consumer choice in the research context. The advantages of approaching research from a consumer perspective are addressed next, followed by an exploration of ways to incorporate consumer decision making theory into research pedagogy. The article concludes that making students better consumers of legal information will help them become better professionals.

Keywords: legal research, consumer transactions, consumer products, decision making theory

JEL Classification: K39, K19

Suggested Citation

Sloan, Amy E., Step Right Up: Using Consumer Decision Making Theory to Teach Research Process in the Electronic Age (2008). South Carolina Law Review, Vol. 60, p. 123, 2008; University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2009-06. Available at SSRN:

Amy E. Sloan (Contact Author)

University of Baltimore - School of Law ( email )

1420 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
United States
410-837-6529 (Phone)

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