Monday, May 15, 2017

Rombauer Method of Legal Research

Instead of getting bogged down trying to instruct on the nuts-and-bolts of each database, it is more important to emphasize a research process that works in any database.

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
The beauty of this research process is that it can be geared toward any database. As long as the user can maneuver the database to find relevant secondary sources, he or she will be able to fulfill the first step of the research process and so on.

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.

2 comments:

  1. Charles D. Cole, Jr.May 15, 2017 at 9:58 AM

    Exactly right. Legal research must be taught as a process. You can break the process down into judicial process, administration process, legislative process, and so on. But the core skill is understanding the process. Once you have that, you can go print or electronic, traditional (published) sources or not.

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  2. This is my method in my Advanced Legal Research course at Yale Law School. And it works!

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