Using Information Literacy to Prepare Practice-Ready Graduates
50 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2016 Last revised: 6 Nov 2016
Date Written: October 19, 2016
How can we ensure that today’s law graduates are “practice ready” when law practice - particularly legal research and writing - are changing so rapidly?
Today’s law graduates find themselves standing at the intersection of two different eras in the practice of law. Law practice is currently dominated by senior practitioners who grew up and entered law practice before the digital revolution that digital technologies have wrought. In contrast, recent law graduates are generally technologically savvy and have grown up as digital natives who don’t remember a time before the existence of interactive digital media. At this intersection lies a gap in the use of technology between these generations, particularly in the degree to which technology is integrated into the day-to-day practice of law.
Legal research and legal writing are two areas in which this gap can be seen most acutely. What constitutes “cutting edge” legal research and writing skills is almost ever-changing; these are also areas where senior practitioners are likely to feel wedded to the methods and technologies they learned and first encountered in practice. Bridging this gap poses a great challenge to both the new lawyers trying to navigate it and educators striving to prepare new graduates to enter the profession within the ability to hit the ground running. As law firm structures have changed and job prospects have declined, calls for “practice-ready” law graduates have steadily increased over the last two decades. The ABA has adopted new accreditation standards providing that schools require experiential courses for graduation, and recommending that schools develop programs to “develop practice ready lawyers,” putting additional pressure on law schools to prepare their students.
The first step in helping law students and new lawyers bridge the technology gap is to shift from thinking about research and writing as fixed skills, and to focus instead on self-learning and skill development, so that new lawyers can be flexible and adapt as the technological landscape continues to change. Thinking about these skills in terms of “information literacy” can help us take this first step.
This article serves as an attempt to find a new way to think about how to prepare law students to be “practice ready” for the legal research and writing tasks they will face as they enter law practice, and how to equip them with the skills they need to communicate with older generations of lawyers while adapting to new and evolving technologies. In essence, recent law school graduates must be ambassadors of technology, simultaneously able to communicate with lawyers who may not be conversant in, or even understand, the new technologies taking over law practice and able to use those new technologies to be effective lawyers. This article traces the paths that led to the current state of technology in law practice, and discusses ways educators might rethink what it means to be “practice ready” in this environment.
Keywords: legal education, practice-ready, legal research, legal writing, law school, library, legal research and writing, information literacy, technology
JEL Classification: K00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation