Friday, April 17, 2009

Advice From a Recent Graduate

If I could go back in time and be law student again (not that I’d want to), there is a lot I would do differently. Well, I can’t go back, but I can pass on my advice to a new generation of law students. Here are several suggestions for law students to better utilize the law library and its resources.

1. Don’t be afraid (or too lazy) to use print materials for legal research—sometimes it will save you so much time. Many of you are probably tired of hearing this, but I swear it’s true. I admit, when I went to law school my laptop was my constant companion. Sure, I did print research when it was required of me. But most of the time I went directly to Westlaw for things. I still use Westlaw most of the time, but for certain tasks, print may be more efficient. Here are some examples:
  • You are looking for general information on a common area of law.
    Let’s say you are studying for a contracts test and need an overview of the topic. In this case, a print index is likely to have the terms you are looking for and a computer search is likely going to bring up too much information, because your search terms are probably commonly used and are going to create many hits
  • You are researching a vague topic.
    If you are looking for a vague topic, it may be easier to flip around in a print index for terms that might get you what you are looking for; often indexes will say something like “see also” to direct you to a different search term that might be applicable
  • Your search term is ambiguous
    If you want to look up something ambiguous (its meaning varies based on context), print is probably your best option; an internet search probably isn’t going to be able to do a context-specific search and you are going to get results for all the meanings. For example, a search for the term “consideration” is going to bring back topics related to the contracts terms, but also documents including “for your consideration.”

2. Use treatises and hornbooks when you don’t completely understand a topic—and DON’T BUY THEM! When I was in law school, I had this strange aversion to actually using physical copies of the reference materials, especially the treatises and hornbooks. I found them very useful, but I felt like the reference check out time was too short for me to get anything accomplished or that I was hogging them from other students if I sat in the library and used them every day for hours on end. So instead, I purchased them for all the major subjects! I justified it by telling myself that I would use them to study for the bar and in practice. Want to know how many times I cracked them after law school? That’s right—none! Quite honestly, I didn’t even use them that much in law school. As it turned out, all I could only stand to read them for about an hour at a time. I could have easily sat in the library and read them. And even if I wanted to sit there and read them for 6 hours on end, oh well—library materials are meant to be used! Now that work in a library, I see how completely ridiculous and unfounded my concerns were.

3. Use the library’s stash of past exams—they really are helpful. I didn’t start doing this until I was a 3L, and I sure wish I had started sooner. I found that a particular professors’ exams really didn’t change all that much from year to year, and if I took the time to sit down, issue spot, and write up a messy little answer, I ended up getting a great grade on the exam. Here, the library has a digital collection for you to use, so you can even use and print them from home.

Want more ideas of what the library can do for you? Ask one of the reference librarians—they are here to help you!

-- Rachel Turpin

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