UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – In an article in the March/April issue of AALL Spectrum, the bimonthly professional publication of the American Association of Law Libraries, two Penn State Law librarians describe efforts at the law school to infuse the introduction of legal research methods with elements of practical planning and careful resource selection to achieve maximum research impact at the most reasonable cost possible.
“As the legal field struggles with clients who want greater efficiencies from their attorneys and alternative fee arrangements, many of which state that attorneys will not bill clients for legal research database fees, it is becoming more important than ever to teach law students and attorneys how to use alternative resources effectively and efficiently,” write Rebecca A. Mattson, scholarly communications and faculty services librarian, and Theresa K. Tarves, emerging technology and digital research librarian, in their article, “Teaching Cost-Effective Research Skills.”
The challenge for attorneys and law students is deciding when it makes sense to use a pay-as-you-go resource like Lexis Advance or Westlaw versus a flat-fee or free database, according to Mattson and Tarves.
“The biggest challenge, at both the law school and practice levels, is convincing students and attorneys that just because they can use Westlaw or Lexis Advance doesn’t mean that they should,” the authors write. “While scare tactics may work (showing an attorney that they just incurred a $100-plus charge for clicking on one document is certainly a powerful deterrent), they do not help make better researchers.”
Mattson and Tarves go on to describe efforts by Penn State Law faculty in the school’s new Legal Research Tools and Strategies course, designed to teach law students cost-effective research strategies in the first year of law school while the students are developing their general legal research skills. The course includes lectures and discussions on cost-effective research as well as tips, tricks, and resources that are introduced throughout the semester.
“Each graded assignment was built on the one prior, and soon the students were required to keep track of not only their searches, but also their time spent researching,” Mattson and Tarves write. “For the final assignment, a fee structure was imposed that required students to bill the client for the amount of time spent researching and the cost of using the major commercial databases.”
The goal of the final assignment was to make students aware that they bill for time and database usage and that they will be working within budgets at summer jobs and in practice.
“By taking the initiative to teach law students these skills, librarians help create more well-rounded legal researchers who will begin their careers prepared to research efficiently and effectively,” they conclude.
Mattson and Tarves joined the faculty of Penn State Law’s H. Laddie Montague Jr. Law Library in 2015. In addition to teaching the legal research course, Mattson leads the library’s planning and implementation of enhanced scholarly support and faculty research and teaching support programs. She also manages the Penn State Law eLibrary. Tarves, who also teaches a section of the legal research course, primarily works with faculty and other library patrons to maximize their knowledge and effective use of the library’s growing number of electronic research collections.