Skip to main content

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.

Popular posts from this blog

Letter to A First-Time (Legal Research) Instructor

Dear Friend, Seven years ago this week, I was prepping madly to teach my first legal research class.  Three months earlier, I'd been a law student myself.  To say that I was nervous is an understatement; mildly terrified was probably a more apt description.  The truth is I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I wanted to teach legal research differently than I had been taught legal research, where at best it was viewed as a skill less important than everything else being taught at law school and at worst an afterthought, a skill that students should be able to do with very little training.  There are many points I wish I knew then that I know now and that's what I want to share with you toda y.  First and foremost, students will forgive many imperfections in the classroom if they know you care about their learning.  At the start of every semester, I re-read Kent Syverud's " Taking Students Seriously: A Guide for New Law Teachers

Why Experts Can Struggle to Teach Novices

This week in our Slack group on teaching , there was an interesting discussion about expertise and the amount of time needed to prep for instruction. I mentioned something that I recalled reading: that experts can be less effective in teaching novices because often the expert skips cognitive steps that the novice learner needs to understand.  I thought I'd dig into this a little more today on the blog. The fact is novices and experts learn very differently.  The major reason for this is that experts not only know a lot about their chosen discipline, but they understand how that discipline is organized. As such, what has a clear structure to the expert is a jumbled set of unorganized information to the novice.  The information presented to novices "are more or less random data points."[1]  In contrast, when the expert learns something new in her area of expertise, she just plugs it into the knowledge structure that already exists in her long-term memory. Because the new

Helping With Student Focus & Motivation in the Remote Classroom, Part 3: Limiting New Technologies to Reduce Extrinsic Cognitive Load

A librarian colleague used to say to me, "Technology is great until it's not." This couldn't be more true in the classroom.  As many of us prepare for a fall entirely or partially online, there's a rush to familiarize ourselves with lots of new educational technology to teach our classes. There's this sense that if you're not using the best and newest ed tech in your class, you're doing something wrong. Fortunately, the science doesn't back this up.  Using too many different types of technology can be a contributing factor to cognitive overload in students . Cognitive load is a term cognitive psychologists use to describe the mental challenge that the limitations of working memory puts on a student's learning.[1] Basically, working memory is extremely limited in both time and duration. Humans can only hold on to between four and nine "chunks" of information at any given time,[2] and can only hold on to new information in their worki

Motivation in the Legal Research Classroom

Motivating students in the legal research classroom can be a challenge. As we know, there are many false narratives surrounding students' conceptions of legal research's importance, interest level, and ease, all of which can result in a decrease in students' motivation to engage in this subject matter. There are two types of motivation--intrinsic and extrinsic.  Extrinsic motivation occurs when students are motivated by an outside reward or punishment;[1] in instruction, this is often the grades students will get on research assignments or the participation points they might receive for actively engaging with in-class exercises.  Intrinsic motivation , on the other hand, occurs when students are interested in the topic for its own sake.[2] Due to legal research's false narratives, students entering our classrooms tend to be drive primarily by extrinsic motivation.  The problem is, as Julie Dirksen aptly notes in her excellent book Design for How People Learn , &qu

Reflection in the Legal Research Classroom

Reflection is a critical component of experiential learning.  We see in ABA Standard 303 that experiential courses must include multiple opportunities for self-evaluation.  Self-evaluation is critically important to legal research.  Students must reflect on and assess their research methodology each time they research to continue becoming more efficient legal researchers and to determine what research strategies work best in which situations. [1] Reflection relates to several ideas found in cognitive theory that have been shown to result in stronger learning and retention: Retrieval : recalling recently-learned information;  Elaboration : finding a nexis between what you know and what you are learning; and  Generation : putting concepts into your own words and/or contemplating what you might do differently next time. I've been contemplating how to better incorporate reflection into legal research classes. At the beginning of this semester, at the recommendation of a works