Advanced Legal Research in a Practice-Oriented Curriculum Matthew C. Cordon Reference Librarian & Associate Professor of Law Baylor Law School
Background • Baylor was one of the last law schools to introduce Advanced Legal Research into its curriculum in 2000. • Approved in September 2000. • Course content influenced by existing publications about advanced legal research. • First class was taught in Spring 2001.
Unique Challenges • Quarter System: 12-week terms instead of 15-week terms. • Separate Entering Classes: Students enter in the fall, spring, and summer quarters. • High percentage of required courses in the students’ second and third years. • The big challenge: How do we make ALR a meaningful part of the upper-level curriculum?
What is a Practice-Oriented Curriculum? • Focus: Teaching doctrine and skills as they pertain to what a lawyer needs to know and be able to do. • Little distinction between “skills” classes and “doctrinal” classes; traditional doctrinal classes often incorporate aspects of traditional skills courses. • Likewise, little or no distinction between faculty teaching doctrinal classes and faculty teaching skills courses.
Specific Components of the Curriculum Relevant to ALR • Traditional first-year classes. • Legislation, Administrative Power and Procedure (LAPP): Required first-year course. • Second-Year Course Requirements: Federal income tax; business organizations; trusts and estates; constitutional law; and consumer law.
Practice Court, Evidence, Professional Responsibility • Practice Court: the bedrock of the program since 1922. • Practice Court is an intense, two-quarter (six months) program; students also concurrently take a five-hour course in evidence and a two-hour course in professional responsibility. • Practice Court trains students in every stage of a trial, including preparation of pleadings, arguing motions, conducting discovery, selecting juries, examining witnesses, and persuading juries.
Legal Analysis, Research & Communication (LARC) • First-year legal research and writing program. • Sequential instruction: • LARC I: Introduction to legal analysis and writing. • LARC II: Introduction to legal research and citation. • LARC III: Brief writing and appellate advocacy.
LARC II • Separate course focusing on basic legal research, with an emphasis on Texas-specific resources. • Emphasis on the nature of various types of legal authority. • Citation instruction. • Students complete research assignments, a final exam, and a project requiring students to draft a memorandum in support of a motion.
Competence in Legal Research • Potential Sources: • Various articles. • MacCrate Report: Narrow the gap between what law schools teach and what attorneys actually practice. • AALL Research Instruction Caucus: Core Legal Research Competencies.
Core Competencies • 116-page Document, Released by AALL Research Instruction Caucus in 1997. • Five main skills identified: Caselaw; Statutes; Administrative Materials; Procedural and Ethical Rules; and Non-Official Expositions of Legal Rules. • Probably represents the best description of advanced legal research skills.
Development of ALR: The Easy Part • Review of existing materials (articles, syllabi, etc.). • “Best of” approach. • Focus on the types of authorities (caselaw, statutes, etc.). • Focus on specialized topics in legal research.
Development of ALR: The Not-So-Easy Part • Two-hour elective, competing with other electives in a very limited “marketplace.” • Depth of the course in one quarter must equal depth of a similar course in one semester. • Students have different levels of experience (especially pre-P.C. and post-P.C. students). • Class must be rigorous, “truly advanced,” and entirely practical. • Goal: Course must be a meaningful part of the law school’s upper-level curriculum.
General Components of ALR • As explained to students: 1. The course builds familiarity with a broad range of legal resources. 2.Course requirements include a certain amount of repetition. 3. Legal research problems in the course are appropriately rigorous and challenging. 4. Students are encouraged to work diligently in completing research problems while remaining patient in doing so.
Components of ALR: Instruction in Types of Resources • Introductory Assignment: Drafting a memo based on previous LARC II project. • Secondary sources: 2 classes, 2 assignments. • Legislative research: 3 classes, 3 assignments. • Caselaw, procedural rules, etc.: 2 classes, 2 assignments. • Administrative research: 2 classes, 1 assignment.
Components of ALR: Instruction in Specialized Legal Research • Tax Research • Securities Research • Intellectual Property Research • Business and Commercial Law Research • Probate & Estate Planning • Family Law • Criminal Law and Procedure, Evidence, Trial Advocacy, etc.
Other Components • Research logs: Every assignment. • Billing statements: Every assignment. • Course Project: • Part 1: Students draft a motion, complete with appropriate factual documentation, based on a problem of their own creation. • Part 2: Students prepare a response to another student’s motion.
Development of Research Skills within the Curriculum • Civil Procedure • LARC II • LARC III • LAPP • Second-Year Courses (Tax, Business Organizations, Trusts and Estates) • ALR • P.C. • Evidence • Professional Responsibility
How ALR Benefits from the Program • Communication with other faculty. • Emphasis on sequential instruction (e.g., sequence from LARC I to LARC II to LARC III; sequence from Civil Procedure to Practice Court). • Rigor and difficulty is an expectation (but this expectation certainly has its limits).
Misc. Information • Course is offered each fall and spring quarter. • Average class size is 37 students per quarter (high of 62; low of 19) • Overall average enrollment is about 425. • Instructor evaluations and other anecdotal evidence: Beneficial class; too much work for a two-hour class; more difficult than students expected.
Suggestions • Know the curriculum and mission of the curriculum as a whole. • Effectively integrate first-year legal research with legal analysis and writing. • Effectively integrate first-year and upper-level research courses. • Integrate content from procedural and administrative law courses. • Contextual instruction through specialized research.
Vanity • Beyond Mere Competency: Advanced Legal Research in a Practice-Oriented Curriculum, 55 Baylor L. Rev. 1 (2003).