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Reference from Coast to Coast: Summer Musings

By Jan Bissett and Margi Heinen, Published on July 29, 2008

It's that challenging time of summer - many librarians have the opportunity to attend SLA or AALL conferences to learn new techniques and remind themselves of the value of familiar sources. Left back at our law firms are summer associates who are facing assignments that force them to find new sources and try new techniques for research. Just as we find ourselves reminded of sources or approaches when we gather with colleagues, we may want to consider “reminders” for our summer (and fall) associates. It's all a matter of perspective.

Two recent postings from academic colleagues have prompted our musings on research in the "good old summertime" and the matter of perspective. The first posting from the July 7, 2008 Law Librarian Blog (with surprise) that “5 of the top 10 and 10 of the top 20 CALI lessons viewed during the month of June...were legal research lessons”. CALI (Center for Computer Assisted Legal Research) provides a number of helpful lessons for law students on substantive matters as well as legal research topics accessible through their law schools. The second entry from a law library discussion list notes the availability of law librarian responses to a survey concerning Lexis vs. Westlaw use. Most law firm librarians will not be surprised that research lessons are being accessed during the summer - we may want to explore recommending this option to summer associates who need refreshers. And we're no strangers to budgetary constraints and the bottom line or decisions about conveying "preferred provider" status on one of the big two. Again, a matter of perspective. So, how can or do we, as academic and private law library colleagues, exploit this interest in research to benefit our shared user – the law student/summer associate?

Law school libraries may offer resources for summer associates to refresh their knowledge of research techniques. A good example is Arizona State University’s Ross-Blakley’s resource guide. In addition to useful research guides, “Survivor” PowerPoint presentations and links to the CALI offerings described above, this website reminds summer associates of the contractual agreements that define student use for Westlaw, Lexis and Loislaw during the summer. A "bridging the gap" seminar may be available in your area. The Colorado Association of Law Libraries BRAG program, the New Jersey Law Librarians Association, the annual Bridging the Legal Research Gap are all examples of programs focusing on presenting practice materials to summer associates. Whether you encourage attending one of these presentations or provide the training yourself make sure your summer associates are well versed in the use of practice materials.

Often new associates are seeking a treatise on a very specific area of the law—either because a partner has suggested they consult a treatise or because they feel at sea in a particular subject area. We should not forget the incredibly useful Legal Information Buyer’s Guide and Reference Manual by Ken Svengalis. If your library catalog doesn’t offer a useful treatise a quick perusal of Mr. Svengalis’ classic work is essential. We may assume that new associates have a list of favorite or useful treatises, but that is actually unlikely. It is useful to provide your associates with a list of classics—include the terms partners will use to describe the treatise (like Prosser on Torts, a.k.a. Dobbs on Torts) and provide call numbers or location symbols so that an associate can easily skim down the list from Appleman, past McQuillin to Wright and Miller and head directly to the shelf or database needed.

Similarly, associates may imply they understand legislative history or recognize the term, regulations, but when faced with a research assignment their depth of knowledge may be more shallow than they thought. There are several options for online refreshers for these techniques. Bob Berring, who pioneered research training tapes, can be seen on a DVD set available from West and there are podcasts on a number of his research topics. Familiarity with state specific materials is also a must. The AALL State Bibliography Series, Svengalis as well as entries in Zimmerman's Research Guide, may offer direction. It has been said before, but remains true, “may you live in interesting times”. We law librarians attempt to answer questions from attorneys who want to research in only familiar ways, summer associates who anticipate quick results and for whom the idea of reading long passages to find the elusive research nugget is literally impossible, young associates who have begun to appreciate the need for free and open access sources, but want to find annotations and citations at those sources. And perhaps from our perspective none of the above is possible—compromise will be required. Web 2.0, Library 2.0 and collaborative practice as well as an interest in Second Life and social networking may change our perspective or not. A valuable lesson we can all take away from the summer - it is all about perspective.

cover of Legal Information Buyer's Guide & Reference Manual 2007Legal Information Buyer's Guide & Reference Manual 2007
Author: Kendall F. Svengalis
Binding: Paperback