Legal Research – the Heart of the Matter

Is it fair to assume that some of the “legal research” issues of past decades live on in 2006? Back in the 1980’s, when a small number of Canadian lawyers started to call themselves “research lawyers”, the debate was about whether a “research lawyer” could have the same profile and credibility as that accorded to a “line lawyer” (aka a lawyer with a traditional practice). Back then, there was a concern that legal research was something that juniors did until they were in a position to delegate the research assignments to the new “junior” on the team.

I decided to ask for the views of the summer students who arrived at our firm this week, by asking them if there was any way to “market” legal research as a glamourous part of life at a law firm. The answer was almost unanimously no and the insights they provided reminded me of the 1980’s discussion of the role of a research lawyer. The concerns noted included the following:
– having just finished year end papers and exams, they wish to try something different
– they want to see the “practical side” of the practice of law
– their impression of the law firm hierarchy is that “senior partners” don’t do research
– they feel that doing research is “paying their dues” and will allow them to work their way up the ladder
– research is not “high profile” work

On the positive side, the students suggested that being able to see the practical application of their research efforts would make a difference. Going to court to see how their research was translated into legal argument, and being included in client meetings where the research was translated into legal advice were two practical suggestions the students made.


  1. This is really interesting, though not surprising, I guess, Elizabeth. It would be interesting for me, given my background in a law school rather than in practice, to know more about how “line” and “research” lawyers divide a task or the tasks in coming to grips with file. As well, it would be interesting to see what students imagine “line” lawyers actually doing, and see how well this corresponds to the reality.

    I’d be curious about whether there aren’t “line” partners who don’t trust juniors to do their research for them — or, at least, not entirely.