The Advanced Legal Research courses at Marquette have a “real world” focus. For my part, I have tried to select research problems for final projects and assignments that place students in real world practice situations.
To the extent that I can, I avoid the “hunt and find” type research problems for which there is one right answer hidden somewhere. The legal issues the students have to research sometimes, but do not always, have a straightforward answer.
In the “real world,” legal research and legal writing go hand in hand. Thus, in addition to their research plan and research log, the students must then submit a written product such as a letter or a memo summarizing their research results for a supervising attorney, a judge, a client, etc.
This past semester I added a more detailed cost-effective research component than I had in the past. In some of their research assignments students only had limited Lexis/Westlaw packages (like Westlaw PRO). In order to completely and accurately respond to the research problem, the students had to come up with a cost-effective research strategy that involved using only a subsection of their current academic Lexis or Westlaw subscription in conjunction with the print materials in the library and the freely available online legal resources like PreCYdent, GPO Access, Thomas and the Cornell Legal Information Institute that we discussed in class. The student response to my focus on the free legal research options has been largely positive.
This coming semester I plan to deliver research assignments in the variety of different formats students will encounter in practice. This includes the delivery of research assignments through a larger case file, brief email messages that require further questions for clarification, longer written memos, and spoken conversations. I look forward to the feedback I will get from my students after next semester.