To that end, I've always taught a version of the Rombauer Method of legal research.
- Preliminary Analysis – developing search strings and searching secondary sources for an overview of the topic
- Codified Law – searching constitutions, codes, court rules, and regulations
- Binding Precedent – searching case law that the court must follow from a particular jurisdiction
- Persuasive Precedent – searching case law that the court may follow from other jurisdictions
If students use this research process to keep their research strategic and organized, they should feel comfortable using any database. And it is important for students to feel comfortable while researching because they will generally only research in a way that is comfortable to them.
This was observed by Alison Head and Michael Eisenberg among undergraduate students at the University of Washington. The students showed little variation in their research strategies and defaulted to resources like Google and Wikipedia for introductory research, with little regard for efficiency or effectiveness. As Head and Eisenberg observed, the students may be aware of the range of resources needed to carry out their research effectively, but they fall back on strategies as similar and repetitive as possible.
Instead of focusing on the various platforms, we should make the students comfortable with a process that works in any database — a process that will become familiar and repetitive to the students and one that they might actually use.