An Analysis Of Attorney Legal Research

The Law Librarian Blog posted about an interesting paper that all law librarians should read. It reflects on how new attorneys are performing legal research.

Steve Lastres, Director of Library & Knowledge Management at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, analyzed the results of a recent survey conducted by The Research Intelligence Group called 'New Attorney Research Methods Survey.' Survey respondents "included 190 young attorneys equally represented by large and small law firms across a variety of practice areas. Nearly forty percent of the respondents were 28 or younger, in practice for five or less years, and a quarter of the respondents were recent law school graduates from the class of 2011 or 2012."

Key findings from the survey:
  • Newer attorneys spend more than 30% of their time doing legal research
  • Approximately 50% of associates think legal research should be a larger part of the law school curriculum
  • Over 80% of associates use an extensive range of content from traditional primary law and secondary materials to News, Court Transcripts, Verdicts, Dockets, Public Records and more.
  • Legal Classification systems are rarely used (only 12% begin with a legal classification system)
  • Attorneys use free online research resources but spend most of their time, over 8 hours per week using paid-for online research services.
Key recommendations from the author on what law schools and employers can do to update and enhance legal research instruction:
  • Adjusting time allocated to hard copy vs. online research
  • Reducing emphasis on legal classification systems
  • Mastering use of treatises and other highly used sources such as legal news, regulatory materials and public records.
All good stuff. We need to know how our constituents are performing research, so we can instruct properly. But I am still concerned about the heavy use of online content. As I've mentioned a few times, of the 2 million unique volumes contained in America’s law libraries, only about 15 percent are available in digital form -- this includes the material on propriety databases.

I fear that we are in a pre- and post-Internet research age where our research and scholarship will become increasingly narrow because of the over reliance on electronic sources. During our instruction, should we put heavy emphasis on this fact, or should we understand that it probably won't make a difference?

I think a lot about the role of librarians today, and I think it comes down to getting our patrons the relevant information in a way that they prefer to access it (generally electronically). Even with my reservations over the Google Books Project and having the world's knowledge digitized under one entity, I do think that the transformative nature of the ability to search within the text of a book is revolutionary. And it helps to meet our new found goal. 


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