Skip to main content

Research Conferences as a Practice Skill

Many first year legal research and writing include a conferencing component. Most of these conferences, however, focus primarily on the writing process. Conferences are held after students have struggled through the research process and have drafted at least some part of a memo or brief. There are many pedagogical reasons for the importance of research conferences (e.g. students are provided with individualized feedback), but one that is often overlooked is that research conferences help prepare students for practice by giving them opportunities to collaborate with other legal professionals and to orally communicate about the legal issues they are facing.

Through research conferences, students learn how to discuss the authorities they have located effectively and to communicate how they are relevant to the legal issues they are facing. This practice collaborating is key. As Susan Azyndar noted in her article "Work with Me Here: Collaborative Learning in the Legal Research Classroom, "collaboration and teamwork have been recognized as pillars of the [legal] profession." (1 Legal Info Rev. at 2-3; accessible via Hein)  According to AALL's Task Force on Identifying Skills and Knowledge for Legal Practice, 35% of attorneys begin their research by seeking advice from another attorney frequently or very frequently; another 29% do so occasionally.  (see page 10).

In the practice of law, attorneys are often asked to report back on what they have discovered in their research. Research conferences afford instructors the opportunity to help students learn to think for themselves--something that research has shown millennial learners particularly struggle with.  Research conferences also allow students to have practice critically evaluating their own thought processes by asking questions and to learn to speak about these issues in an organized and coherent manner.

Whilst some may note that writing conferences give students the same opportunities to collaborate, practice listening, and receive feedback, writing conferences rightly focus on the mechanics and organization of the writing--not on the oral communication of ideas and the application of sources.  In conferences focusing squarely on the research, students get to focus more on how the authorities they've located are relevant to the issues they are researching without having to simultaneously engage in the challenging task of communicating those issues in writing. Students need to be able to discuss their analytical processes out loud and to speak coherently about legal authorities with colleagues. They need to be able to strategize, assess, analogize, and synthesize verbally. And, in fact, having these conversations prior to beginning writing will likely result in more thoughtful analysis when it is time for students to start drafting.

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 4: Building An Online Teaching Presence

I've written before about how important it is to show students you care about their learning and about them as humans , in part summarizing Kent Syverud's excellent piece , "Taking Students Seriously: A Guide for New Law Teachers. It is harder to show students that you care about them in a remote environment than when you see them in a physical classroom every day, where you can smile at them, easily ask them how they're doing as they enter the room or when you run into them in the classroom, or notice through their body language if they are having a hard time and reach out. But we know that showing we care matters; our students try harder and engage more when they feel like their learning matters to their instructor.  It takes more intention to show you care about students in the online classroom, but it's imperative that we find ways to show we do. So what are some ways that we can show students we care in the remote learning environment? The first is to

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 resea

Four Aspects of Effectual Teaching (& Why Instructional Design Is the One Missing In Many Law Courses)

There are four general components of teaching, which all must come together for a teacher to be successful: Knowledge of the Subject Matter : Most instructors in higher education have this covered. The largest potential hurdle of this aspect of teaching is perhaps remembering to view the material from the perspective of the beginner learner, as opposed to from the teacher's own advanced learner status. In my first year of teaching, I found this to be an issue, as I jumped over steps that were so obvious to me that I didn't even notice them anymore. It was only by students asking questions that illustrated I was missing an important step in their comprehension and by watching the legal writing professor I co-taught with that I began to break down my material into pieces that were more digestible for my students. Interaction with Students : Instructor-student interaction can take a myriad of forms. As L. Dee Fink writes in Creating Significant Learning Experiences , "Teac