AALL 2018 Recap: Training the Lawyers of Tomorrow Through the Clinics of Today: Three Models for Practical Library Services in Clinical Law School Settings & Beyond

By Kate Britt

In this program, librarians presented the different ways their libraries support their schools’ clinical programs: embedded librarians, dedicated library liaisons, and a legal research clinic.

clinics

Stephanie Wilson of Seattle University defined the embedded librarian model as an integrated member of the course, a subject expert who understands the group’s information and instruction needs, and an active provider of continual and ongoing research and/or instruction (whether formal or informal).

Seattle University embeds a librarian in clinics that tend to do the most regulatory and statutory research. Several considerations preceded launching this program: Do students have an ongoing need for instruction? Would the fear of violating client confidentiality prevent students from seeking help? What impact would the program have on the workloads of the remaining staff? Will the director advocate for support from the institution? Finally, are the professors willing to collaborate with librarians as partners?

Embedded librarians learn about the clinic’s subject matter, document management system, and communication channels. They also inquire into the common weaknesses and needed skills of the students. The librarian and professor plan what librarian participation will look like, including frequency. Student skills are assessed on the first day of class, which helps them understand why they need research instruction. Additionally, students are introduced to the embedded librarian as “co-professor” on day one.

Embedded librarians attend every class and meeting as an active participant. They communicate with the professor proactively and teach often–at the beginning, after client interviews, and after students have started research. Upon conclusion of the course, they assess the students’ skills, solicit student feedback, and review what did and didn’t work with the professor. Wilson noted that having an embedded librarian is rewarding for the students, the library, the school, and the librarian.

Lisa Winkler of Northwestern presented the dedicated library liaison model. She is liaison to all the clinics, though some clinics retain relationships with other subject-matter expert librarians. She has faced challenges in communication difficulties resulting from the distance between the clinics and the library, developing an understanding of the internal operations of the clinics, and figuring out how to assess this model’s efficacy. Some of the advantages include better communication with those who don’t otherwise use the library, and increased flexibility and adaptability.

Winkler created a Legal Clinic Collection, housed in a “Book Nook” in the clinic center where users can happen upon useful materials. She maintains drop-in research hours in the Book Nook, allowing students and support staff to visit on their time. Other successful efforts include training sessions, research guides, and in-class tutorials.

Winkler intends to expand trainings and get more involved with the existing training schedules. She is also considering how to bring e-resources into the clinic space, how to increase outreach to other departments that support the clinics, and how to become part of the clinic community on a personal level.

Finally, the founder and lead instructor of the Cornell Legal Research Clinic, Amy Emerson,  presented the legal research clinic model. The CLRC does not take on cases. Rather, it answers legal questions on any subject but patent law. The Clinic serves the indigent, non-profits, entrepreneurs, and attorneys.

In her proposal to obtain law school approval, Emerson highlighted ABA requirements for experiential education and state bar requirements for pro bono hours. As student attorney supervisor, she had to be a member of the local bar; she counseled attendees not to see that as an insurmountable obstacle.

Formal coursework involves a syllabus, a handbook, and case rounds. The syllabus outlines skills specific to the clinic. The handbook includes ethics rules, how to conduct conflict checks, calculating and reporting billing hours, and work product issues. Case rounds are weekly meetings during which students talk about their work, with opportunities for peer review and instructor feedback.

The CLRC is increasingly popular among students, has received recognition from her employer, and is now seen as a community resource.

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