Cooley Law Librarians Help Prepare Students For Real World Research
THE STORY BEHIND THE CLASSES
Nearly 10 years ago, I knew the Librarians had to do more than we were to help students be practice ready with research skills beyond what they learned in Research and Writing. Previously, the Librarians team taught an advanced legal research three-credit course. This was in the 90s. As our student body grew and the campuses expanded, we ran out of time to cover more than the basic classroom support so many of you experienced in classes like Research and Writing, Advanced Writing, Estate Planning, Pre-Trial Skills, the Externship classroom component, and many more.
Once our student body shrunk a little, it gave the Librarians time to plan and implement a series of one-credit elective courses focusing on a specific topic of legal research. Under the banner of Advanced Legal Research, the Faculty Curriculum Committee also approved these courses as skills courses which allows them to be part of the three-credit elective skills coursework a student needs to take during their time in law school. Five courses were developed and included Advanced CALR (computer-assisted legal research), Administrative Law, Florida Legal Research, Legislative History, and Michigan Legal Research. Along the way, Canadian Legal Research was approved but it has not been taught up to this point. Each course was designed to be taken just prior to or during participation in an externship. Years ago, Librarians often visited externship classes to showcase practice-based materials available to students so the move to these electives seemed natural.
CLASSES BEING OFFERED TODAY
In regular rotation at this time are classes on Advanced CALR (computer-assisted legal research), Florida Legal Research, and Michigan Legal Research. All classes meet for 50 minutes once a week throughout the term and are completely online through the Canvas teaching platform. The move to the online format has allowed teaching Librarians to highlight digital materials that we have access to. Print materials are discussed, but the overall goal is to expose students to as much online, so they are well-versed in knowing where to go as soon as they are given a research project. We are offering Administrative Law again in the fall after a few years of hiatus due to a shortage of librarians available to teach. Enrollment in these courses is usually capped at 16 students and they have learning outcomes related to research that will help students be prepared to research on the first day at a new job. Many students are concurrently taking their externship and can use the information they learn one day in class the next day at their externship.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
As we look forward, the Librarians have yet to set a permanent schedule for when courses may be offered. This was done early on, but fewer teaching Librarians and different student needs mean we are more reactive today and teach when there is more of a demand for our courses. Certainly, we would like to add additional topics into the mix including tax and business law. However, we know that this is an evolving program with Librarians wanting to be flexible in meeting the needs of our students. The current course offerings make the best use of Librarian time and focus on the primary information students and new attorneys seek out the most.
There is no doubt that the Advanced Legal Research courses can be an integral part of a student’s legal education. While students are faced with a wide array of interesting electives to take with a limited amount that can actually be taken, the taking of these courses prepares future attorneys to hit the road running. Continuing into the future, the current version of ALR focuses on helping students be successful in their externships and eventual roles as practicing attorneys.
Professor Duane Strojny is the Associate Dean of Library and Instructional Support at WMU-Cooley Law School and oversees all aspects of the library operation.