AALL 2015 Recap: “International Attorneys and LL.M. Students: Filling Research Gaps”

By Alexis Fetzer

scalesThe late Sunday afternoon session entitled “International Attorneys and LL.M. Students: Filling Research Gaps” targeted librarians working with international students in an instructional setting. Each speaker presented on his or her experience working with foreign LL.M. students.

The first of the three speakers was Jinwei Zhang, Reference and Instructional Technologies Librarian at the University of Tennessee School of Law. Ms. Zhang had a unique experience in that she had been a foreign LL.M. student herself. She began by discussing some of the unique challenges instructors face in teaching these students, such as language barriers, cultural differences, and introducing a new legal system. One cultural difference that Zhang emphasized was a reluctance to ask questions in class. Many of these students are coming from learning environments in which they are not encouraged to interrupt a lecturer with comments or questions. It is important to be patient and encouraging of these students in order to get them to open up in class. One suggestion offered was instituting more one on one meetings with students in order to get them comfortable talking to instructors and to answer any questions that they are too uncomfortable to pose before an entire class.

Nina Scholtz, Head of Reference Services & Instruction Coordinator at Cornell University Law School, was the second of three speakers. Ms. Scholtz spoke on her experience as an academic law librarian instructing LL.M. students in legal research in their Principles of American Legal Writing course. In this course she instructs students in four class sessions and then works with students individually on their research for writing projects.

One challenge she highlighted was the difficulty in overcoming language barriers for legal citation abbreviations. It is important for instructors to keep in mind that what appears to make sense in the English speaker’s mind as an abbreviation for a court or publication may not always translate clearly to the foreign student. An instructor should look for ways to make this easier for students to understand and should be able to point to resources that can assist students in abbreviating or deciphering abbreviations of citations.

Scholtz shared one of the exercises she performed with her students, entitled “Thinking like a Common Law Lawyer.” This exercise focuses on the factual analysis that needs to take place before students can begin tackling legal research. Students are tasked with finding the basis of the case, generating search terms, and looking to other synonyms and antonyms of those terms. After the class performs this exercise together as a whole, students are broken up into smaller groups and given the same type of assignment with a different fact pattern.

The final speaker was Furman Scott DeMaris, Research Services Librarian at Reed Smith LLP, who spoke of his experience as a firm librarian when Reed Smith took on several Chinese LL.M. students as apart of work-study program with Temple University School of Law. One thing the firm did was to offer research refreshers and training for these students. Mr. Demaris found that it was important to let these students know that the librarians were there to assist them, because otherwise they might not have identified the librarians as a resource. Research guides were also offered to students on topics such as how to avoid research pitfalls and how to perform cost effective research. One challenge in hosting these LL.M. students was that, because they were guests rather than employees, they could not be given access to all of the firm’s resources. At the end of their time with Reed Smith, the students were asked to give a presentation on Chinese Law. This was a great way take advantage of the special knowledge of these foreign educated attorneys and to educate the firm’s attorneys on a foreign legal system.

After the final speaker, attendees were asked to discuss amongst members seated at their table the challenges in training foreign attorneys in an LL.M. instructional program or similar setting. The microphone was then opened for attendees to share and for the speakers to answer any questions.

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