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 today. 


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,"…

16x16 Challenge, or How A Tweet Resulted in Building a Community of Law Librarians Thinking & Writing About Teaching

Twitter is a space in which I've made connections with so many Law Librarians and many others within legal academia--and strengthened connections with others--and learned so much from and been inspired by colleagues across the country.

This past weekend, Emily Barney, Technology Training & Marketing Librarian at Chicago-Kent College of Law, was live-tweeting a panel from the WP Campus (Where WordPress Meets Higher Education) Conference called "The Infamous 9x9x25 Challenge," by Todd Conaway, from the University of Washington--Bothell. Started in 2013 at a community college in Arizona, faculty members were challenged to write 25 sentences a week for 9 weeks about teaching and learning. It gave faculty members the chance to reflect on what they do, share experiences and ideas, and see what their colleagues are up to over the course of the semester. And the challenge has spread in various iterations to college campuses across the United States.

This seemed like a wonder…

Gratitude in Teaching

My favorite poet is Mary Oliver and what I love most about her work is the awe and gratefulness she exudes in merely observing the world.

She writes,
Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
This is, I think, good advice for teachers.  As teachers, we tend to focus in, with laser-like precision, on anything that goes wrong in our classrooms. This is important--we must reflect on what doesn't work in our classrooms to improve as instructors. But, what we too often fail to do is take note of our successes.

In Chapter 3 of her new book, Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers, Professor Jessamyn Neuhaus has a wonderful section on the importance of gratitude in teaching. She describes gratitude as "an inner attitude [that] leads to an expression of thanks--taking an action--toward someone or something. It means recognizing what you received from another person or from the circumstances in w…

Elaborative Interrogation in the Legal Research Classroom

One type of activity legal skills professors can incorporate into their classrooms is elaboration. As described by Yana Weinstein and Megan Sumeracki in Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide, "[e]laboration describes the process of adding features to one's memories."[1]  It helps with organization of information within the knowledge structures in one's minds, making it easier to retrieve this information later. But what activities will help students to add features to their memories?

Weinstein and Sumeracki recommend three elaboration techniques that can all be applied to the legal research classroom: elaborative interrogation, concrete examples, and dual coding.[2] Studies of each has shown improvement in student learning and long-term retention. Today, we're going to look specifically elaborative interrogation.

With elaborative interrogation, students ask themselves questions about the reason and way things work.[3]  While it's easy to presume law stud…

Cold-Calling in the Law Classroom

In the years I've spent in legal academia, both as a student and a teacher, there's never been a great deal of discussion about the efficacy of cold-calling students. In the past year, however, I've heard arguments by faculty members that cold-calling works as a form of formative assessment for class, despite the fact that only one student is answering a given question. Recently, however, as I've been exploring brain science, I've been wondering about how much learning actually takes place inside classrooms where cold-calling is the primary method of instruction. Are we making learning more difficult than it needs to be?

I've written briefly before about the effectsof retrieval. Retrieval is the stage of the learning process in which students access information from their long-term memories.[1] Regular practice retrieving information leads to both long-term retention of information (basically, because we have had practice finding information in the knowledge st…