Sunday, July 15, 2007

Print Research Skills

The presenters at the Town Hall meeting found that print research skills remain important, but that newer lawyers’ print skills were dramatically lower than their online skills. They also found that improving the research skills in print improved the online skills. They found that reducing the frustrations of young lawyers in research could also reduce the high turn-over level at firms, as well as improve the efficiency and value of the associates to the firm. Cost-effective research skills require facility with both print and online sources and a good sense of which to use. And they found that, while good research skills do not help an associate make partner, bad research skills derail the career.

Firm librarians agreed that the most important skills a new associate can bring their firm is knowledge of the key resources in their practice area. So, awareness and understanding of specialty sets like the BNA Labor Reporter or the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reports remain key for lawyers in those specialty areas. And that knowledge requires understanding of the print originals in order to make best use of the available online versions.

The new lawyers and students

* lack skills in print research
* do not understand indexes or tables of contents
* do not know how to judge the quality or merit of resources
* have no context for online sources (they don’t know the print version, and it impedes their efficient use of the online resource)
* are over-reliant on online sources
* do not understand the difference between primary and secondary law
* are unaware of online pricing, and
* fail to plan research ahead of time

West, happily, is working to assist librarians to improve the students and young associates’ print skills. They will replace the generic image of a “book” on the Westlaw site with the image of the print version for each online title. The are expanding the use of keynumber system online. They are going to make cues to hierarchy in a source more visible (the volume number of a reporter, the title or chapter and sections in codes, for example). They are considering using a visual cues for primary and secondary sources (perhaps, primary in blue and secondary in red). And they are creating a new “integrated training” program for lawyers and for librarians who teach lawyers and students.

Much of this is not news to the librarian community. But it was fascinating to see how widespread the problems are, and that firm librarians see the same problems (perhaps magnified by the online charges!).

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