Sorry if you thought I am writing a “Who does legal research anymore, anyway?” column this time. What I mean by the title, and what I mean to ask in the column, is in what settings and by whom is legal research done today, and whether the answers to these questions call for any action by legal research professionals. Those of us who carry out legal research or provide legal research instruction as a regular part of our livelihoods or occupations often think of legal research in what I think of as a more traditional context: the private law firms, the corporate legal department, the government (i.e., justice departments), the courts (i.e., by court counsel and students/clerks), the law school (by or for students and professors).
But, invariably, others carry out legal research or might even provide instruction in research. And this might include research of varying natures. That is, perhaps research or instruction in these other contexts is “peripherally” legal, or traditional legal research.
Librarians in law schools obviously carry out legal research and offer legal research instruction, but what about also business schools, or other university departments such as social or political science? Or professors or students in those contexts? Do they conduct research that is perhaps, if not legal research at its core, then peripherally legal? And if so, are they receiving instruction in the research they carry out?
There are also, of course, non-practicing lawyers or other legal professionals working outside the scope of traditional legal practice. For example, such professionals might be part of law reform agencies, or various other non-governmental organizations. Clearly a great deal of research would be carried out by (or perhaps commissioned by) professionals in these organizations.
Research that is legal at its peripheries might also be carried out by authors (i.e. apart from authors of legal textbooks; rather, authors of books that might touch on aspects of the law), or by researchers working in politics.
But can you help me think of others who do or provide instruction in research? And the follow-up question to which this leads is what the particular needs of these communities of researchers are, and to what extent they are met by the resources that exist. For example, is there a reliance (or over-reliance) on general web searches or cursory print material review? And to the extent those conducting research in these other contexts use specialized legal research tools, such as secondary and primary print materials or either free or proprietary electronic legal databases and web sites, do they use primarily print or electronic resources? And do they using them with training, or “off the cuff”? Or do they not use specialized tools at all, perhaps relying instead on the experience of or consultation with others? And, finally, depending on the answers here, is there more that specialized legal researchers (such as research lawyers and law librarians) can or should do? Opportunities? Obligations?
So, I’ve raised just a few questions. Now I’d love to hear your thoughts!