Advancing Public Interest Practitioner Research Skills in Legal Education
75 Pages Posted: 16 May 2006
The information revolution has dramatically altered the legal research landscape, expanding the bounds of legal authority. Practitioner research requires more than traditional legal research. It also encompasses factual investigation, non-legal information, interdisciplinary and audience research. Many new lawyers are ill-prepared to research novel and unusual situations, to cope with unwritten laws and local customs, and to meet shifting authority expectations. Symptoms of underdeveloped research skills include: unfamiliarity with specialized practitioner resources, lack of vision in connecting research to problem solving, and superficial analysis. This article suggests law librarian and clinical faculty collaborations to help prepare law students to conduct sophisticated practitioner research. Clinical courses, because they closely resemble law practice, provide context for enriching law students' research skills. Law librarians who teach advanced legal research courses have the expertise and tools for providing customized advanced research instruction in clinical courses. Sample advanced legal research course materials and a recommended clinical research instruction module are provided. Aspiring public interest lawyers must also be aware of the research environment they will encounter and the importance of promoting and protecting community information resources. Accordingly, the advanced research instruction this article recommends also seeks to spur reform by increasing public interest lawyers' awareness of inequitable research conditions affecting their clients.
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