Librarians in the Classroom – Teaching problem-solving research skills to law students

Research librarians at the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law played key roles in an intensive, seven-day intersession course in January designed to simulate real-life, collaborative work at a busy law firm. The course, Problem Solving Skills for Lawyers, was taught by Professors Katharine Baker and Kari Johnson, and took students through four complex legal problems requiring a mix of written work and presentations on tight deadlines.

Each of the four segments included a research component led by the team of librarians: Tom Gaylord, Debbie Ginsberg, Scott Vanderlin, and Clare Willis. Research sessions spanned the range of topics covered in the course, from business and medical research to environmental regulations to international labor law, and introduced students to resources well-suited to the topics at hand. Students had the opportunity to spend some time working with these new tools with the librarians before applying them to the facts of the scenarios presented in class.

The course had been offered twice before without the research component; instead, students had been given a file of research already done for them. Having students do their own research, and integrating the librarians into the classroom, was seen as a way to make the course both more realistic and more effective at building new skills, and students’ responses to the inclusion of the librarian-led research sessions have been uniformly positive, indicating a desire to have research skills better integrated into coursework and class time. Students found value in expanding their research repertoire beyond Westlaw and Lexis, and the class provided a safe setting for them to develop familiarity with new research tools and techniques prior to going into practice.

The librarians will be back for the next go-around, and plans are already underway to tweak some of the problem scenarios for future sessions.

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