Law Librarians Filling Gaps in Law School Curricula

Many law librarians try to find creative ways to incorporate research into the law school curriculum. Some try to integrate fully into the 1L program to ensure that all law students get a proper legal-research foundation. Others may hit roadblocks taking that route and instead start law library administered legal research programs.

Whichever method you use to instill the importance of efficient and effective legal research, and aside from the importance of researching across the law school curriculum, there are a couple of gaps to note in student ability that have run consistent throughout my time as a teaching law librarian.

One is the understanding of the interplay between statutes and regulations. I regularly ask my students to explain it, and I've only had a few who could do it. If students don't understand that statutes enable administrative agencies to enforce the law and that administrative agencies create regulations that further the goals of enforcement, then how will students understand how to successfully research and analyze a complex issue on point?

During a recent session on federal statutory research, I asked a room full of 3Ls (who are about to graduate in May) to articulate this distinction. Only one could do it. Everyone else looked stunned.

Another consistent gap that I see is the lack of understanding of the civil trial process. I usually get more students who can name the parts of the civil trial process than the difference between statutes and regulations, but it's still rather abysmal. To that end, I created a full-length civil trial research course for spring 2017.

During our first session, in a room mostly made up of 3Ls, I did a pre-assessment on the parts of the civil trial process after introductions. The results of the pre-assessment were pretty awful. After we discussed the parts of the process, generally, the post-assessment results were much better.

For the next 14 weeks, we will talk about "best practices" for the particular part of the civil trial process, and I will show them how to find sample forms relevant to that part of the process. They will then complete an in-class exercise to put that knowledge into action. Their final project will be to create a packet of relevant forms based on the parts of the civil trial process dealing with a particular fact pattern.

When I consider what I think a law student should know upon graduation, these are just a couple of examples. Teaching law librarians would do well to fill these practical gaps in knowledge.


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