Teaching FCIL Research Series: An Interview With Myself

By John Scherrer

Author’s note: The format of this post was inspired by Saul Bellow’s “An Interview with Myself.”  Or Henry Hart’s The Power of Congress to Limit the Jurisdiction of Federal Courts: An Exercise in Dialectic.  Or the author is just too plain lazy to pen prose.  You decide.

Q: Let’s start: you’re an FCIL librarian?

A: Not at all—I just dabble.  For one, our school doesn’t offer an FCIL course.  My reference office neighbor says I know how to find old, weird English things, so she’s dubbed me the unofficial FCIL dude.  In that role, I’ve done a few one-off presentations.
sherlockQ: What was your last gig?

A: Comparative Criminal Law.  The instructor is a serious Sherlockian, as in being an authority on Doyle.  His class reads Holmes stories and they analyze how the stories’ crimes would be treated by U.K. and U.S law in Victorian and modern times.
Q: So how did you prepare for the class?

A: Watching lots of Benedict Cumberbatch.  That’s my jam, as the kids say.
Q: No Tony Stark?

A: He’s Derek Lutz and also that obnoxious dude in Weird Science.  Not Sherlock.
Q: You’re totally betraying your age.

A: Don’t my students know this.
Q: And after a copious amount of PBS Masterpiece…

A: Chapter 22 in Fundamentals of Legal Research is excellent—that gives a great overview of UK resources.  I also looked at the Foreign Law Guide and GlobaLex.  And Alison Shea submitted a UK lesson to the AALL-FCIL syllabi bank.  By the way, I’ll be embarrassed if I missed any other UK centric materials on the FCIL-SIS site.
Q: What about pedagogy?

A: My previous presentations on foreign law resources have seemed like mere smorgasbord offerings to the students.  In, say, Comparative Constitutional Law, the students’ paper topics were all over the place, so there was a lot of ground to cover.  It wasn’t a very interactive class.  So I thought this was a great opportunity to use Nearpod and insert multiple choice quiz questions throughout the PowerPoint.
Q: How did that go?

A: Still a work in progress.  But I was thrilled that no student chose Lloyd Dobler’s Commentaries on the Laws of England as the answer to the last question.
Q: Huh?

A: OK, I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my trousers rolled.  Or should my peeps refer to an ill-fitting cardigan?  I will say, though, that when I suggested Flavor Flav as a mnemonic device to remember Wayne LaFave of Search and Seizure fame, just about everyone got it.  Everything old is new again.
Q: So what was the biggest challenge for this class?  Besides your propensity for self-indulgence…

A: Our library doesn’t have a particularly strong UK collection.  If the students wanted, say, The Digest or a current edition of Halsbury’s, they would have to take the Metro to Georgetown.  But for the historic UK material, I actually love that a student couldn’t rely upon a Westlaw keyword search and instead should start by looking at the index in the first edition of Halsbury’s.
Q: And you didn’t have to worry about translations.

A: Indeed.  Thankfully no student has come to me with a Law French document.  The closest thing I’ve come to a translation is telling students how to read the regnal years.  That was mostly solved with a handout.
Q: You also met for required individual research consultations shortly after the class?

A: Right.  One takeaway from those meetings was that despite adding a “major key alert” to the secondary sources slide (and a shout out to DJ Nick Harrell for the major key alert idea), I needed to emphasize secondary sources more in class.  Simply too many students were starting with Google.  After the meetings, I sent follow-up emails to the students that included links to Halsbury’s and Russell on Crime.  In retrospect, I should have given the students a tour of HathiTrust during my initial presentation and pointed out the finding aids available for Halsbury’s and Russell.  After all, the Halsbury’s index is itself two volumes and around 2000 pages.  It’s intuitive for me to start there, but not for them.
Q: Backing up a second, is Google really all that bad?

A: Well, no.  Using Google I found that the Wikipedia entry for Statutes at Large includes a very useful index for Pickering’s Statutes with hyperlinks.  But I don’t want the students to start and end their research with Google.  The ones who do might suffer the fate of Sisyphus?  Almost make it to the top of the hill but don’t quite summit.  Then starting anew, they try a fresh keyword search and yet still never reach the top.
Q: Last question: any advice to librarians tackling UK law?

A: Don’t assume the students will be able to find a case even when they know the citation—especially with the old stuff.  Thank goodness for the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations!

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