5 tips from a law school librarian for assigning research projects to interns



As a law school reference librarian, I discipline a lot of questions from law college students working at internships, externships and summer time jobs. Over the years, I’ve seen some recurring points with the research assignments given to law college students, and I believed it could be useful to talk about a few of them right here.

Tip 1: Provide as a lot element as potential.

Students generally come to the reference desk with very obscure research questions. Things like, “I’ve been asked to research [insert broad topic],” or “I’ve been asked to find cases on [insert broad topic].” We will then ask clarifying questions to attempt to make the venture extra manageable, however college students will typically reply with “I don’t know.” Unfortunately, when this occurs, we now have to inform college students to return and ask for clarification. If assigning attorneys can present a increased stage of element up entrance, this could save time for everybody.

Ideally, when a scholar comes to us for research help, they need to give you the option to present: 1) a transient abstract of the case they’re engaged on; 2) a concise assertion of the precise difficulty to be researched; and three) a clear understanding of what they’re attempting to discover (e.g., If they’re looking for circumstances, from which courtroom(s)? If articles, how current? And so on …).

Tip 2: Suggest a place to begin.

Students generally say to me, “I’ve been given a research project, and I have no idea where to start.” We librarians are pleased to assist, in fact, however assigning attorneys—as subject-matter consultants—could know higher than we do about the most effective beginning locations. If you realize of a related treatise, apply information or article, or you might have a quotation to a doubtlessly helpful statute or case, let the scholar know. In my expertise, college students generally wrestle to discover a approach into a research venture, however as soon as they get a foothold, they’ve a better time with it.

Tip 3: Consider setting closing dates or check-in factors.

Students go to the reference desk frazzled and say, “I’ve been spinning my wheels on this for eight hours, and I am so confused!” This is presumably not the way you need your interns spending their time. When I assign research projects to my college students, I usually say one thing like, “If you’ve put in two hours of good faith effort and are still confused, come talk to me.” I’ve additionally discovered that college students take considerably longer on research projects than I believe they are going to. For instance, if I assign one thing anticipating it to take one or two hours, many college students will spend extra like three to 4 hours on it. Setting check-in occasions may help guarantee college students are spending a affordable period of time on every venture.

Tip 4: Cultivate a tradition the place asking questions is inspired.

Of course, so as for Tip 3 to work, there wants to be a tradition of openness and psychological security. Students want to really feel secure in asking questions. In my expertise, college students appear very reluctant to return to the assigning legal professional to ask clarifying questions. Even in my lessons, I can sense that college students are generally reluctant to ask me questions. This could have one thing to do with law scholar psychology, the place college students are cautious of seeming silly in entrance of their friends, professors and employers. Regardless of the place this tendency comes from, I believe all of us want to remind college students that asking questions is anticipated—and even fascinating—and that we are going to not choose them for doing so.

Tip 5: Try to keep away from making college students ‘prove a negative.’

I discipline a lot of questions from college students like this: “My assigning attorney asked me to research [insert extremely specific topic]. They said they doubt there are any cases out there but have asked me to double-check.” This is basically asking college students to “prove a negative”—that’s, they don’t seem to be discovering the law; they’re proving that there is no such thing as a law. I believe these make poor research projects for scholar interns for at the least three causes. First, from a pedagogical standpoint, they don’t reinforce good research habits. Because there are not any good secondary sources, and no circumstances or statutes to begin with, college students don’t get apply utilizing the important research abilities they’re taught in law school. And certainly, the research course of college students are taught to comply with primarily breaks down in these conditions, and college students find yourself taking a “kitchen sink” strategy—frantically looking wherever and in every single place for any morsel of related data.

Second, these assignments put a lot of stress and nervousness on college students. In my expertise, college students are petrified of returning to their assigning legal professional empty-handed, though the project is basically designed for them not to discover something. If this kind of project should be given, I’d encourage supervising attorneys to be sure interns perceive that they could very effectively discover nothing, and that’s OK.

Third, this kind of research venture takes a surprisingly very long time to do effectively. I’ve already talked about that college students take longer than we count on to do most research projects, and that is doubly true with this type of venture. Proving a detrimental is rather more tough and time-consuming than proving a constructive. I’d encourage supervising attorneys to contemplate if that is actually how they need their interns to spend their time.

In conclusion

I really like serving to college students with their research projects; I believe most librarians do. It’s a huge motive many people turned librarians! These tips will not be meant to counsel that we are not looking for to assist scholar interns or to off-load the burden of serving to college students with research onto another person. They are meant to make the research course of go extra easily for everybody concerned and to assist be sure our college students get probably the most significant experiences they’ll.


Matthew Flyntz is the research law librarian for educational companies on the University of California at Irvine School of Law, the place he designs and teaches first-year and upper-level authorized research programs. He has printed articles on authorized data, law librarianship and authorized research instruction in Legal Reference Services Quarterly, Legal Information Review, The Second Draft and ABA Student Lawyer, amongst others.


ABAJournal.com is accepting queries for authentic, considerate, nonpromotional articles and commentary by unpaid contributors to run within the Your Voice part. Details and submission tips are posted at “Your Submissions, Your Voice.”


This column displays the opinions of the writer and never essentially the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.




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