By Roberta O. Roberts (4JM)
Jennifer Wondracek, head of research and faculty services for the UF Law library, took a picture of a conference handout with her tablet’s scanning application, saved it to Dropbox, an online filesharing application, and tweeted the link on the trending topic for the 2011 Federal Depository Library Conference.
Meanwhile, UF Law’s Legal Information Center has a mobile catalog and online video tutorials that can be accessed with a smartphone by scanning a Quick Response — or QR — code. Librarians also train students on programs such as LexisNexis for Microsoft Office, which scans a brief and automatically Shepardizes cases mentioned in the document.
Thus do modern librarians deliver the digital library quickly and efficiently to their patrons. On the other hand, librarians acknowledge a downside to this legal research revolution.
“While Google can be a great place to start at times, ‘Googlizing’ everything takes sources out of context,” said Wondracek, who also serves as adjunct professor law. “Looking at a book helps you understand the structure of the law and gives you the whole picture.”
Claire M. Germain, who heads the Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center, was more direct.
“Law firm partners tell us that young law graduates don’t know how to research anymore,” she declared. “They think they can just Google everything.” Germain said technology makes things look easier than they actually are.
“The Google Generation and Digital Natives need to learn how to make sure they find the official primary source when it comes to legal research,” Germain said. “Google is a wonderful first step, as long as you know how to filter sources and find legal authorities.”
It’s not as if Germain, associate dean for the Legal Information and Clarence J. TeSelle professor of law, is a digital Luddite. Far from it. She has spent much of her career helping to shepherd the law librarian profession into the digital age. Germain, who came to UF Law in 2011 after 18 years leading the Cornell law library, served in 2006 as president of the American Association of Law Libraries, the organization that published a report and spearheaded legislation to address the problem of authenticating official legal sources now proliferating on the Internet.
The increase of technology use in the legal field leads to greater risk of using unverifiable online sources or accidentally breaching attorney-client privilege by sharing private information on online cloud computing programs.
In February, the American Bar Association House of Delegates approved a resolution supporting the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, which would require state governments to “manage electronic legal information in a manner that guarantees the trustworthiness of and continuing access to important state legal material.”
These developments ensure that “good Internet searching skills do not replace a student’s analytical skills,” Wondracek said. UF Law is making curricular changes to reflect this fact.
Starting this fall, 1L students will be required to take one credit of Legal Research and two credits of Legal Writing. Previously, 1L students only took one two-credit Legal Research and Writing class, and a two-credit Appellate Advocacy course in the spring. Librarians will teach the newly created Legal Research course, and previous Legal Research and Writing faculty will teach the stand-alone Legal Writing course.
Mary E. Adkins (JD 91), director of the Legal Writing and Appellate Advocacy program, has taught Legal Research and Writing for the last eight years, and said she has never been able to fi t as much research as she would have liked.
“Westlaw and LexisNexis representatives would take over a class and show students how to use their systems, but it was hard to find space in the curriculum to teach more than those two,” said Adkins, director of the Legal Writing and Appellate Advocacy Program. The new Legal Research course will change that.
“Librarians are current with new technology for legal knowledge,” Adkins said. “They are already very familiar with the Legal Information Center, so teaching research blends really well with what they already do.”
The shift allows writing professors like Adkins to deepen students’ grasp of legal writing.
“I am considering adding an assignment in which students would write a persuasive trial-level document,” she said. “They usually write internal memos and an appellate brief in the second semester, but this is just an idea I have to give students even more writing experience.”
Students are encouraged to learn how to perform electronic research, but are advised that they may be held even more accountable for their legal research — electronic or not — in the future.
“The National Conference of State Bar Examiners is studying the addition of legal research on the bar exam,” Germain said. “And it’s not a matter of ‘if’ they will add it — it’s a matter of ‘when.’”
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