#Research4Refugees: A Cross-Canada Law Student Effort

An inspiring event began late last week and rose to a crescendo on Saturday: the law student-driven Research-a-thon for Refugees. The 12-hour distributed pro bono legal research marathon was kickstarted in a whirlwind of spark of initiative, quick communication, outreach, collaborative effort, and perhaps a bit of collective consciousness.

Volunteer law students receiving an immigration and refugee law overview from UVic Professor Donald Galloway

The goal of #Research4Refugees was to produce a collaboratively researched document for a Canadian NGO, focusing on interpretation and application of the US-Canada safe third country agreement for arriving refugees, on a project managed by the NGO. The Canada-wide event took place on Saturday in classrooms and libraries of the 22 Canadian legal faculties. Students from each law school collaboratively researched a different particular issue assigned to them; compiled their respective research notes; prepared executive summaries to respond to their respective questions; and then brought their resources together at the end of the night.

Here at UVic, on Thursday afternoon our refugee law professor had given a roomful of interested students an overview of the background and potential issues they might be asked to research on Saturday, which is the scene in the image. I suspect others will have been part of a similar scene in many or all of the 21 other schools.

And, after inquiry by the law student rep for our school, the UVic law librarians then set up a simple living guide very quickly on Friday to give our participating students some starting points for research in these areas, and some specific links we foresaw would be used. The questions and their assignments were not solidified at that stage. Neither we nor our students were aware what exact question would be assigned to them nor precisely which supporting resources would be needed. The living nature of the guide and its growth throughout Friday and Saturday were essential.

From the law librarian side, two of us were able to be on hand most of the day to help our law students make their way through this area of law. We were even fortunate that HeinOnline, one of our research product suppliers, enabled access to a key database for us (within short hours of my request, on a Saturday!). A few professors took on guidance shifts as well, and Professor Galloway was in and out throughout the 12-hour day.

Much tweeting was done, under #research4refugees, and local and regional media covered our event on Saturday and in the following days.

This energizing day was not only a wonderful pro bono opportunity for our students to put their legal research and synthesis skills to a purpose they felt passionate about, but also an unexpected experiential learning effort. Many of the students were in their first year and were just a week out of completing their first legal research project of their own, their mandatory legal research and writing memorandum.

Whether first or upper year, it is likely fair to say most of the students had not previously studied immigration and refugee law, let alone these subjects as they interface with international human rights law, treaty law, or US immigration law and policy. To be on hand, to offer guidance, to observe and occasionally join the students in discussing research strategies and resources, was gratifying and meaningful for the law librarians too, and a Saturday well spent.

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