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Research as Analysis in the Modern Legal Academy

For decades, those discussing best practices in legal education have highlighted the importance of skills education (see the Crampton Report, the MacCrate Report, the Carnegie Report, and Best Practices for Legal Education, for just a few examples). But, as legal writing, advocacy, and clinical courses have all emerged to take their rightful place as key components in law students' education, legal research has remained a shadow skill. Despite numerous reports from those hiring our students being dissatisfied with their research skills, legal research education remains relegated to the background even in first year skills classes with "legal research" in their very title.

At least in part, this is due to legal research having been divorced from the analysis that is central to the Langdellian model of legal education. In reality, analysis is central to successful research, and it is only by reclaiming research as an analytical skill in the modern legal academy that research can ever claim its place as a critical skill in preparing law students for practice. Only by tying research to analysis explicitly can we prove to administrators, our faculty colleagues, and our students how important research really is. Without that critical nexus, research will continued to be viewed as a gathering task separate from critical thinking.

In a recent blog post on DipLawMatic Dialogues, I wrote briefly about the importance of talking to our students about the analysis inherent to legal research and about the importance of allowing students opportunities to practice those analytical research skills. But what specifically are these skills? In the past months as I've been thinking about research as analysis, I've been trying to identify categories of analytical tasks that need to be emphasized to and practiced by our students. So far, I have identified at least four categories (and I'm quite sure there are more), all of which I hope to address at length on this blog in due time:
  1. Strategizing: This involves students creating a plan of attack that is appropriate to the research question or questions being asked.
  2. Assessing: This involves students critiquing sources for their credibility, a skill that's especially important to teach our Google generation.
  3. Analogizing: This involves students being able to tie the research found to their own facts.
  4. Synthesizing: This involves being able to apply multiple rules/authorities together in order to apply them to their facts.
It may be argued that students learn about some of these skills in other courses, even in their doctrinal classes. But when students are analogizing or synthesizing in their doctrinal or other skills courses, they are doing it with a body of sources they already have on hand. They are not attempting to engage in that critical thinking whilst in the middle of locating sources--a skill many students already struggle to do without engaging in in-depth analysis. Having opportunities to practice tying together the bibliographic skills of legal research with the critical thinking necessary to be a sound researcher are imperative for students to succeed in practice. That should be our mission: giving that practice and telling everyone in our professional setting that students are learning analysis in our classrooms.

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