Law research skills on the LPC

Law research skills on the LPC

December, 17, 2010 • Posted by 0 Comments

When starting the LPC, students are expected to have a good level of legal research skills attained during their studies on the LL.B or Graduate Diploma in Law. The Solicitors Regulation Authority publishes useful guidance on what a student is expected to know and understand on starting the LPC, including in relation to legal research:

“On joining the course, you are expected already to be able to:

Generally

  • Locate, collate, analyse and apply information to answer specific legal problems, using both traditional paper-based sources and electronic bibliographic primary and secondary sources
  • Check the development and current validity of the law in a particular area

Specifically

  • Find and use the primary sources of the law (cases, statutes and statutory instruments) using both paper-based and electronic sources. In particular, you should be able to:
  • Locate a law report from either the reference or the party information
  • Use a case citator and understand its significance
  • Find statutes and statutory instruments and know how to use relevant updating services
  • Use Halsbury’s Laws of England and Current Law
  • Access EU material, in particular directives, regulations and EU case reporting series
  • Access relevant articles in leading journals
  • Locate and use secondary sources (such as leading practitioner texts) where appropriate as a precursor to detailed reference to primary sources
  • Collate, analyse and apply relevant material in a particular field of law”.

Source: http://www.sra.org.uk/documents/students/student-enrolment/beforeyoustart.pdf (page 29)

The LPC builds on these research skills, allowing students to develop and apply them through practical exercises.  How is this achieved by institutions?  Tony Simmonds examines the way legal research skills are covered comprehensively at the College of Law.  Looking first at GDL students:

“On enrolment, library staff deliver two separate timetabled workshops to small groups of GDL students. These induction sessions, each lasting 40 minutes, involve students in the practicalities of choosing and then exploiting different sources. We take a “tell-show-do” approach, mixing explanation and demonstration of techniques with student exercises. The first workshop, in week 1, focuses on electronic solutions. The second, covering printed sources, ties in with a set of coursework tasks that GDL students are required to tackle using books only (they must record page references with their answers). With the aim of making these tasks more rewarding for students, library staff recently re-devised them so that they all attach to a single, topical issue (Assisted suicide)”.

Looking now at practical legal research within the cirriculum:

“Within the formal LPC curriculum, Practical Legal Research (PLR) is one of a cluster of skills that are taught early on under an umbrella of Introduction to Professional Practice. Teaching staff deliver two workshops that focus especially on PLR, in the context of analysing and then researching real-world legal problems and then reporting findings in an appropriate format and drafting advice to clients. The content of problems that students encounter depends on which LPC pathway they are following. For example “Firm-Specific” students, those sponsored by Clifford Chance, Linklaters or Allen & Overy, firms which send their future trainees exclusively to the College, will generally work on problems set in a corporate context”.

“In addition to preparing and then consolidating their learning in workshops, students must also complete online “test and feedback” exercises, including a set of multiple choice questions that test their knowledge of using printed sources. The PLR assessment which follows in October requires students to produce two research reports, one dealing with a specific issue and the other dealing with two or more intertwined issues.

Each LPC course thereafter incorporates research activities, so that the skills learned on the formal PLR course are reinforced and strengthened throughout the programme.

As well as course materials for Legal Method and PLR, students are provided with a variety of other resources within the curriculum to support learning about research. A manual accompanying each course includes extensive coverage of legal research techniques and sources and students are guided in their reading as the course unfolds. Additionally, all students receive a bound pack of Research Guides, in which library staff describe how to exploit individual databases and printed encyclopaedias, and also outline aspects of research by theme (for example, Effective Electronic Research or Finding Older Cases ).

In recent years the College has invested heavily in e-learning. Its flagship product is a wide-ranging suite of interactive training tutorials, or “i-Tutorials”. These comprise online video recordings of tutors, supported with slides and interactive exercises. Each lasts around 45 minutes, is accessible over the internet and can be stopped, started and replayed. Students have responded very positively to this flexible and re-usable mode of learning. An i-Tutorial in support of PLR was among the first to be introduced at the College, and has recently been re-scripted and re-filmed for a third edition. A senior member of the Knowledge team led design throughout”.

Simmons examines legal research exercises outside of the cirriculum:

“Besides the compulsory research activities that students encounter as part of the curriculum, College libraries offer an assortment of voluntary learning opportunities. Each stocks a variety of textbooks about legal research. Qualified information officers are available to help with ad hoc research queries. Student representatives employed by Westlaw and LexisNexis host regular drop-in clinics where students can obtain informal peer-to-peer training.

Various sign-up workshops are also offered on a rolling basis from September each year, as demand dictates. We arrange for external trainers from the various publishers to come on site to enable students to learn about specific databases in detail. Also, library staff deliver three separate one-hour workshops by theme, which enable students to consolidate their skills and knowledge by watching demonstrations then carrying out exercises with expert support:

  • How to research case law and legislation using electronic sources
  • How to research using paper sources
  • How to research journals and newspapers

Finally, library staff launched a new suite of eight multimedia tools for the 2009/10 academic year, called “i-Guides”:

  • Before you Start (covering general techniques and tips)
  • Starting Paper Research
  • Starting Online Research
  • Finding and Updating Cases – Paper
  • Finding and Updating Cases – Online
  • Finding and Updating Legislation – Paper
  • Finding and Updating Legislation – Online
  • Researching EU Law

Each of these short (10 minute) presentations comprises a series of slides, overlaid by a podcast that explains a particular area of research. We used Adobe Captivate to capture then embed videos of searches within the i-Guides that cover online sources. Students can check their learning by answering a few brief questions at the end of each i-Guide. In addition, an overall “test and feedback” quiz is offered to gauge learning across all eight presentations”.

To read the full article, see: Simmonds, T, Building proficiency: approaches to teaching legal research at the College of Law, L.I.M. 2010, 10(2), 90-94. To find out more about the College of Law, visit: http://www.college-of-law.co.uk/home/