by Jason Zarin
As a recent transplant to Virginia and new member of VALL, I was very fortunate to receive a grant this year to attend the AALL annual meeting in Chicago. The reference librarians at the University of Richmond Law School are reevaluating the way legal research has been taught over the last few years and are investigating ways to improve the course taught to first-year law students. Accordingly, this year’s theme “Make It New: Create the Future” was particularly apropos.
I had the opportunity to attend two presentations that were exceedingly useful on the topic of improving legal research education: “Leave treasure hunts to pirates: creating experiential research courses” and “How Are We Doing?: Using Outcomes Assessment to Improve Legal Research Instruction.”
“Pirates” focused on the ABA standards requiring students to take six credits of “experiential learning” and how to incorporate these requirements into legal research instruction. The presenters recommended making students’ final legal research project be the research for a legal memo presented as a research log. The attached picture is their suggested grading rubric for the log, which required the students to identify and use relevant secondary sources and find the leading state cases, statutes, and journal articles.
How do we know if our students are actually learning was the theme of “Legal research course assessment.” A few years ago, the University of Florida changed its legal writing course to make first-year legal research a separate stand-alone class taught and run by the law librarians. In order to determine success and shape the course for future years, UF makes regular assessments: (1) Are we teaching the right things? (2) Are students learning and retaining the information? (3) Can students apply what they’ve learned? UF sends a short survey to returning second-year students on whether they felt adequately prepared and confident for the research work they did during the summer. They also survey employers as to their own evaluation of these summer associates’ research skills.
I also had the opportunity to present at the Cool Tools Cafe on using Clio (a law firm practice management tool) to manage research assistants, assign them tasks, and track their time. I also attended the advocacy workshop and worked as a mentor to a first-time conference attendee.
Overall, the 2016 annual meeting was one of the more valuable AALL conferences I have attended in terms of interesting and useful programming. I returned from the conference abuzz with new ideas and directions for our legal research instruction. I am very grateful for the financial support VALL was able to provide me to attend the meeting.