Via a post on the Legal Writing Prof blog, I'm reading an interesting paper, "Say Goodbye to the Books: Information Literacy as the New Legal Research Paradigm," by Professors Ellie Margolis and Kristen Murray of Temple University. The paper is available for download in the SSRN Working Paper Series.
Purely coincidentally, a similar thought arose this morning in an internal planning meeting about our legal research and writing instruction this fall. It was expressed that to introduce online research resources by reference to or comparison with their print counterparts is likely no longer a suitable approach. The argument is not that there is no place for such a discussion: Of course we must teach respective scopes, advantages, research approaches and entry points, and the like.
The point is rather that law students – incoming and continuing – as well as new articling students do not see print materials as the reference point for assessing or evaluating online resources. On the other hand, legal research instructors likely learned and instinctively might design instruction within the framework of the longstanding body of print materials.
The authors posit the following [all footnotes omitted]:
But finding is no longer the chief challenge. Legal research is no longer just about how to access materials in all of the various print and electronic sources. Finding tools and secondary authority are no longer a necessary point of access into the primary authority. The changes wrought by technology have replaced access to multiple sources with a single one—the search box. Whether researching on any of the free or fee‐paid web‐based services, the research is conducted by entering terms in a search box. And, unless specific steps are taken in advance, the results of the search are likely to include a larger number of materials—primary and secondary, relevant and irrelevant, useful and not useful. Legal research has shifted from a focus on how to find materials to careful evaluation of the wealth of information each search yields.
Here, I emphasize that one of the requisites of evaluation of legal information is evaluation of the source. In this context, the use of traditional finding tools and secondary authority – whether in print or in electronic form – is essential for students to learn and must not be devalued.
The authors continue:
As legal research teachers come to grips with the significant changes in the legal research landscape, more and more are recognizing the need to teach not only specific electronic legal research techniques, but also a deeper understanding of electronic research so that skills can be transferred as the research technology continues to evolve and change. We are past the point of resisting the shift to electronic research and must accept as a given that law students and new legal researchers will primarily conduct legal research online.
I agree with the authors' premise. We have to ensure our students learn not only how to access legal information, but also how to evaluate the results of their research. This requires as much an emphasis on information literacy skills as instruction in the use of legal research resources.
I'm interested in the thoughts of others who either design or consume such instruction. Is it time, as the authors say, for a paradigm shift in legal research instruction?