Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Integrating Legal Research Into Legal Life

A fair number of years ago, I attended a terrific program at an AALS (American Association of Law Schools) meeting, with Jill Ramsfield. She was actually speaking on her use of Rhetoric in teaching Legal Writing courses. But her points were so interesting to me, as a teacher of Legal Research! She was putting her course into the context of all of the Humanities, and all of the sweep of cultural history! Wow! Talk about a thought-provoking talk!

I went back after that January meeting and contemplated for a while. My course has been evolving ever since. The first thing that happened was that I changed the very first class. It had been pretty boring, and not very successful. To tell the truth, I had never found that the upper level students I taught had read that first assignment. So changing that first class seemed like a really good idea, anyway.

My class lasts 2 class sessions long. I spend a bit of time at the start going over house-keeping things, going over the syllabus and warning students how much time the class takes. But then, we change the pace and the rest of the first class is given over to role-playing. I get to play the client, and the students, as a class, have to interview me to get the facts for the first assignment. The energy level in the room really rises. I am always amazed at the excellent advice and good comments people pop up with, too. It’s a great way to start off the semester! I have explored getting visitors in to be my client, but it has not worked out yet.

The assignment then, is for the students to come back and fill out a worksheet with brief answers giving citations to the statutes and telling how they found them. I used to ask them to write a letter or memorandum, but the students freaked out over that, so I just cut it way back to filling out a kind of form. I talk with them in the second class after we go over what they found and how they found it. We discuss what they might do with the client and how they might package and deliver the messages. We talk some about marketing themselves to the client. I tell them the ABA Journal and a number of the books we buy, with alumni in mind, suggest how to deal with clients to keep them happy, even how to bill them so that they feel better about paying bills. This is early in the class, and we really don’t revisit it, but I do want them to be aware.

I say in the first and second classes that they are on the way to being lawyers, and they need to start thinking of themselves that way. They need to work on their writing, their speaking and their research skills, with their new profession in mind. They have obligations to their clients in the future, and their new profession, as well. I will do my best for them, and expect them to do their best for me. Mostly, I see them giving their best, bless their hearts! The ones who don’t leave after I give my “lot of work” talk that first class, are there for a reason. I am so lucky!

No comments: