Let’s Talk About LRW

The summer’s blue moon has come and gone, the evenings are decidedly chilly (here), and sunrise wakes me at an ever more humane hour.

And another sign of autumn’s impending arrival: Planning the fine points of our first-year Legal Research and Writing course occupies a large share of mental space.

Clearly others are also pondering LRW ideas at the moment. The season and a bit of serendipity brought to my screen an interesting question from Dean Kim Brooks of Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie:

I found the ensuing discussion informative and enlightening. For example, to see McGill Guide citation noted as a “wish we’d/they’d/I’d learned” skill after first-year LRW surprised me. I regularly see first-year students with both confidence and competence with the McGill style during and after LRW. Perhaps, as with much else, citation confidence and knowledge erodes as its relative emphasis diminishes over time.

Instruction in US and Commonwealth research was also discussed. I do remember this content in my own first-year LRW learning, and I wonder of other schools also now instead offer it in upper-year optional advanced legal research courses.

Another idea was to front-load writing instruction to provide context for research. At present our program follows this approach to a good extent, as did my own LRW learning.

Another series of suggestions advocated instruction in small groups, factums, and emphasis on noting up. This again describes my own LRW learning and, to a good extent, the programs I’ve worked with since then.

The comments also highlight to me the different approaches schools take to LRW instruction. I’m sure many different approaches can be equally effective. Likewise, it seems the value of regular thought about techniques, content evolution, and fresh ideas are the only constant.

I’d like to reiterate the question Dean Brooks posed and ask one more: Is there anything lawyers and professors wish their students had learned in first-year LRW?


  1. It’s more what the instructors need to tell the 1Ls.

    It’s not difficult. A literate high school graduate already has all the required skills.

    It’ll be boring for most of them.

    Competent legal research and writing requires care and patience, not flair.

    Some of their colleagues will be better at it. A few will be natural. The others will have to get over it.

    Look in a book / article – paper or electronic – first; especially the table of contents.