Basic Legal Research instruction for 1Ls at Columbia Law School
Formal Basic Legal Research instruction is conducted by Reference Librarians (as adjunct-appointed Co-Instructors) in Legal Practice Workshop (LPW) during the 1L year.
First-year students begin their Fall semesters with a Legal Methods course and thereafter begin their doctrinal courses and LPW. The LPW program includes a Legal Research component taught by the Reference Librarians, who are Co-Instructors with the LPW Adjuncts. Each year, the roughly 420 incoming 1Ls are divided up into ~32 LPW sections, each with ~13-15 students. Each of the six Reference Librarians serves as Co-Instructor for between 5 and 6 sections, with responsibility for approximately 70 students.
The Legal Research component of LPW generally takes place in October, when the 1L students are first faced with the need to conduct legal research as part of their Open Memo LPW assignment. The Legal Research component consists of a four-class arc, taking place over a four-week period. The first class of the Legal Research component takes the entire two-hour LPW session for the week. The second, third, and fourth classes are each one hour long, with the other hour of the time LPW session handled by the LPW Adjunct. The four-class arc totals five hours. Reference Librarians also meet with their LPW students during office hours (generally by appointment) or at the Reference Desk, which gives the opportunity for additional informal instruction.
The content of the first class includes an introduction to, or overview of, the legal research process and secondary sources. The second class deals with statutory research and the third class with case law research. These first three classes also have homework assignments guiding the research that students must complete for the LPW Open Memo assignment. Reference Librarians provide the students with individual feedback on the assignments and share assessment of student work with the LPW Adjunct for consideration in determining the final LPW grade (e.g., High Pass/Pass/Low Pass/Fail). The content of the fourth class is more flexible and and can vary, depending on the Reference Librarian involved. It will invariably include a recap and the opportunity for students to ask any remaining questions they may have about legal research, but after that the Reference Librarian may focus on material or information they find to be particularly useful (e.g., locating information on the open web; using low-cost legal alternatives; etc.).
Additionally, prior to the Legal Research component of LPW, students are introduced to Lexis Advance, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law via a series of mandatory Vendor Training Sessions conducted by the respective database representatives. These sessions tend to be pitches highlighting particular features of their own platform. Every 1L attends a session with each vendor, though in different orders based on LPW section. Vendor representatives also have the opportunity to offer additional lunchtime sessions as the semester progresses, though the offerings vary considerably by vendor (Lexis Advance tends to be most active).
In LPW II during the Spring semester, as the 1L students are about to start a moot court assignment that involves some research, a one-hour refresher class is taught by the Reference Librarians in late January. It is mandatory but there is no assignment.