Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why Johnny & Jane Cannot Research

The State of Legal Research Education; A Survey of First Year Legal Research Programs or ‘Why Johnny and Jane Cannot Research’ by Caroline Osborne is an important study in the legal research deficiencies of law school graduates.

From the abstract:
Dissatisfaction with the research skills of the new associate is an oft-repeated refrain. This article explores the state of research education in the law school curriculum. Questions explored include: whether or not legal research is a required first year class; the number of semester of research instruction; the expertise of the professor; number of credits awarded for legal research, scope of the curriculum and observed challenges. Also considered is the impact of a more vigorous writing focus on research skills education. Survey data collected from the two hundred ranked law schools is used to explore these questions and as the basis for reforming research education.

Obsorne highlights the two seminal events that lead to the decline in legal research skills:
  1. An increased emphasis on writing and
  2. The adoption of computer-assisted legal research. 
The article reviews the legal research education at the top two hundred law schools according to US News for 2015. 

 Ultimately, the article identifies four necessary elements in the for a basic legal research class:
  1. A required research class of a minimum of two credits taught in the spring semester of the first year (1 credit) and the fall semester of the two-L year (1 credit).
  2. A professor with both a JD and an MLS or MIS, preferably admitted to the bar and possessing some experience in the practice of law or an equivalent level of practical experience.
  3. A grading schema equivalent to that of the first year doctrinal courses.
  4. A curriculum that includes research strategy; the fundamental resources of secondary sources, case research, statutory research and the administrative state; problem-solving; and concepts of efficiency and effectiveness.

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