Using the “A” Word in Legal Research Instruction

By Alyson Drake

Both the legal academy[1] and librarians[2] have long recognized that analysis is a critical component of the legal research process.  Despite this, legal research has long been put on the back burner in legal education and is often viewed by our colleagues and our student as a rote, mechanical task.  This is partially due to the fact that we don’t talk about research explicitly as an analytical task, probably because analysis is so entrenched in legal research that it seems obvious to librarians.

As legal research instructors, it is critical that we point out the analysis inherent in our research classes to our students. Students will value our courses more and get more out of them if they do not view research as simply a gathering task. Students will also become better researchers and attorneys by practicing engaging in analysis while they research.

Yes, this can be difficult to do. After all, it can be challenging enough just to teach students how to locate materials using the wide variety of databases and other sources they must be familiar with, and we only have so much time with our students. This may be especially true in FCIL research courses in which students are often researching outside of Westlaw and Lexis for the first time. But separating the ability to locate sources from analysis only serves to diminish the importance of researching as a lawyerly task.

So how can we bring the analysis into our classroom, even if we don’t always have considerable time to spend on it, due to the need to also teach the bibliographic side of legal research?

  1. Have a discussion about the values of a good legal researcher. In a fantastic post on the RIPS-SIS Law Librarian Blog this past week, Paul Gatz identified several virtues valuable to the legal researcher, including curiosity, intellectual honesty, perseverance, adaptability, and humanity. This discussion should expand into what skills legal researchers should have. Part of this discussion should include the importance of analytical thinking in conducting research effectively. Trust me, if they’re not hearing it from us, they’re definitely not hearing it from anyone else in their law school careers.
  2. Have discussions with your students about where analysis comes into play in legal research, from research planning to evaluating resources to knowing when it is appropriate to stop researching (plus many others). Without pointing it out, these times when students must use their analytical skills stay hidden. Students won’t be necessarily be able to identify those times when analysis is important if we don’t tell them; instead, they’ll look at research as just using technology to gather sources, rather than a problem-solving endeavor.
  3. ELRclass

    Whenever possible, try to incorporate simulations into your practice exercises so students have an opportunity to use their analysis skills.  Not every problem has to require students to analyze the sources they’ve found to a factual scenario–after all, first we do need to ensure they can locate a foreign law or a bilateral treaty. But they should do this regularly enough that analysis becomes a regular part of the research process for them. These simulations do not have to necessarily be long fact patterns; they can simply ask the student whether a certain provision of a treaty they just located would apply in a given situation and asking them to explain why. This simulates exactly what they would do in practice–considering whether that source would be relevant to the issue they’re researching.  Just like any other skill law students are learning, there must be multiple opportunities for practicing their legal research analysis. Treasure hunts, while they have a value for the bibliographic skills we must teach, tend to reinforce the ideas that research is just gathering and that analysis is a separate task.

Analysis does not belong solely with writing in the law school curriculum. By the time students sit down to write, they should already know which sources are helpful for which issues. As analysis has long been the hallmark of legal education, reclaiming it as a legal research skill may also be key to illuminating the importance of legal research in the law school curriculum, which is long overdue.

 

[1] See, e.g., Am. Bar Ass’n Section of Legal Educ. & Admissions to the Bar, Legal Education and Professional Development—An Educational Continuum: Report of the Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap 138-141 (1992) (MacCrate Report).

[2] See, e.g., Am. Ass’n of Law Librarians, Principles & Standards for Legal Research Competency (2013).

 

Teaching FCIL Research Series: Fun with FCIL Assignments

By Beau Steenken

studentsworkingonassignments

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

One of my favorite parts of teaching is drafting assignments, as the activity provides an outlet for creativity to a greater degree than other parts of my job. If you think about it, drafting assignments does rather mirror writing fiction. You make up a client/protagonist, give said protagonist some sort of problem or conflict, and then set up the means of resolving said conflict. This is especially true of writing assignments for experiential simulation courses as you have to provide enough detail for the problems to simulate real case files. Engaging in this activity for an FCIL research course, however, presents a unique set of challenges.

The main difficulty I encountered in drafting assignments for my initial FCIL course was to come up with assignments realistic enough to satisfy the requirements for a simulation course without leading my students to pretend violate professional responsibility standards. (I feel comfortable in assuming that my students by and large will be licensed in the U.S. and not foreign jurisdictions. Furthermore, under simulation standards, I would be assuming the role of supervising attorney, and I’m also only licensed domsestically.) Additionally, I still needed to use the assignments to measure students’ proficiency in each of the discrete learning outcomes I identified for the course in getting it approved. Thus, I still needed assignments that would require students to:

  • analyze a set of facts to determine what legal issues are presented,
  • research the law to answer legal questions,
  • communicate clearly and effectively in oral and written form, including electronic media, and
  • explain ways in which laws are made and what gives different forms of law authority.

Though I took the learning outcomes I submitted for the course from our list of approved programmatic outcomes (meaning that they were designed with courses on American law in mind), they lined up well with conducting FCIL research. I especially like the last outcome for FCIL assignments, as the forms of law differ quite a bit, and so a large part of what I teach in the class is how to determine what sources exercise what level of authority for a given jurisdiction. Still, drafting assignments that combined these outcomes with realistic problems that could be worked on by attorneys licensed in the U.S. took a bit longer than anticipated.

Altogether I had my FCIL students complete three research assignments, one each for class segments on Foreign, International, and European Union legal research. By far the easiest (and most fun) to draft was the International Law assignment. The assignment required students to take on the role of advising a made-up state (because the state was completely made up, I was also able to make up its own professional responsibility standards rendering that particular concern null for at least one assignment) and to evaluate which of three legal arguments (preemptive self-defense, collective security, or invitation to intervene) would be the best justification for a military strike that had already happened. Sadly, I became so involved in writing the scenario and so giddy at my own cleverness in fictionalizing away professional responsibility, that I forgot to also balance the assignment with consideration of feasibility for my poor students (which they brought to my attention on course evaluations). Thus, in addition to being the easiest and most fun to write, it also stands as the assignment in need of most revision going forward.

For the foreign and E.U. assignments, I got around the P.R. problem by employing a similar plot device in each assignment. My students took on the role of American attorneys conducting initial research to advise clients on whether those clients wanted to take the next step of hiring counsel in foreign jurisdictions. My foreign assignment tasked students with representing an eccentric entrepreneur who wished to relocate off-shore. They had to compare several jurisdictions of my choosing and evaluate those jurisdictions’ mechanisms for dispute resolution and the jurisdictions’ immigration regulations in order to make a recommendation as to which jurisdiction the client should relocate. (The former requirement allowed me to measure my final outcome while not breaking the Fourth Wall of the simulation assignment.) They delivered their recommendations via powerpoint presentations. In the E.U. assignment, the students represented a toy maker who’d been approached by a French company about expanding into new markets. The toymaker wanted to know whether it would be worth looking into by asking whether its current toys would likely satisfy safety regulations in Europe. Thus, students had to find and apply an E.U. Directive as well as French implementing legislation. Their conclusions on the matter took the form of either recommending that the toymaker engage French counsel or by advising that to continue would probably mean changing the toy manufacturing process. (This way they weren’t simulating practice in a jurisdiction in which none of us were licensed.) Interestingly, my students seemed to like this last assignment the best, I think because it was most similar to what they are used to doing with American law.

Ultimately, I feel like my assignments were successful, and I did get good learning outcome data from them. They were also a blast to write, not only because I enjoy FCIL subjects, but also because they required a certain degree of meta-narrative to satisfy both simulation requirements and outcomes-based education requirements.

 

Crafting an FCIL Research Niche (When You’re NOT an “FCIL Librarian”)

By Alyson Drake

worldCrafting an FCIL research niche when you’re not labeled as an “FCIL Librarian” is something I’ve been thinking about lately, particularly in light of my FCIL research course being cancelled this semester due to low registration numbers.  It got me thinking that teaching at a law school that doesn’t have many course offerings in the area of international law or many professors who are doing research in FCIL-related areas, it can take some active effort and some creativity to keep up my FCIL skills.  To be honest, I sometimes consider whether trying to keep some focus on FCIL-related work is even something I should do as my responsibilities expand in other areas.  Then I remember how much fun and how challenging I find FCIL research and remain determined to find some ways to stay connected to that interest area.  So I thought I’d provide a few tips on staying connected to FCIL librarianship without being an FCIL librarian.

  • Share your interest with others. I had an interest in FCIL librarianship right out of law school, as I’d spent several semesters and a summer in law school as a research assistant to one of the international law scholars at William & Mary.  Despite spending a significant amount of time conducting international law research (specifically international criminal law research) in law school, I didn’t feel qualified to apply for FCIL librarian positions out of law school, due to a lack of modern languages (Ancient Greek and Latin FTW!).  But, when I started my first law librarian job at the University of South Carolina, I made sure my colleagues were aware of my research interests.  This ultimately led to a number of opportunities, including being assigned to collection development in human rights law and international law; being assigned presentations in the area of international law; acting as the law library’s liaison to one of the law journals; and even just having students sent my way when other librarians received questions related to foreign or international law.

    This has carried over to my current position. When students are writing a journal comment on a matter of foreign or international law, they are sent my way.  I’ve also been assigned as the liaison to our few faculty members who do undertake international and foreign law projects occasionally.

  • Propose a course. This is something I was able to do at both South Carolina and at my current job at Texas Tech.  At South Carolina, with a full first year teaching schedule, it was a summer session course.  At Texas Tech, I taught it last spring to a wonderful group of students and now think it might be better off as an every-other-year course since we’re not an international-focused law school.  But I’m also considering ways I might partner with the few professors here that do teach in the area of international and foreign law, perhaps by persuading them that incorporating a research project into their courses can help their courses meet the formative assessment or experiential learning requirements required by the ABA.  There are always opportunities if you’re creative enough!  You could also present to student groups with an interest/relation to FCIL.
  • Get involved in FCIL-SIS. Joining the FCIL-SIS and getting involved helped give me a well-reasoned excuse (as if I needed one!) to stay abreast of development in FCIL librarianship.  Added bonus: the FCIL-SIS community will encourage you to get involved!  I’d been kind of lingering on the fringes of the group for a few years when I attended my first FCIL-SIS Business Meeting at AALL 2015.  Alison Shea basically said, “Hey! You should be the chair of the European Law Interest Group!”  Before the meeting concluded, I was.  Three years later, I co-chair the Publicity Committee, which allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of much of what’s going on in FCIL librarianship (and strongly encourage other newer librarians to get involved), and serve on the Advisory Board of the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals. At first, it may seem intimidating to get involved with FCIL-SIS if you’re not labeled as an FCIL librarian (at least if you suffer from imposter syndrome like I sometimes do), but this group is comprised of librarians of every ilk, including a large number of people who not branded with an FCIL title.  Writing a blog post for DipLawMatic Dialogues is one easy way to get your feet wet, so please feel free to contact me if you’re interested!
  • Volunteer for FCIL-Related Opportunities As They Come Up. I will soon have two FCIL-related writing projects to my name. Both were just opportunities that passed me by that I grabbed onto.  The first, updating a GlobaLex article that was out of date, came along largely because of my first point, letting my then-boss, the author of the original article, know that I had an interest in international law.  When the time came for update, he was busy and asked if I’d be interested in completing it.  Yes, please!  The second is a bibliography project where they needed chapters on foreign, comparative, and international law.  I volunteered to do one or two of the chapters, and somehow ended up doing all three.  Both projects allowed me to indulge my interest in foreign and international law and learn some new things.

So, if you, like the former me, are lingering on the fringes, are just someone who has an interest in FCIL without it being a part of your everyday job, are unsure of where you might fit into this group, I encourage you to jump on in! The water’s fine. The people are nice. You’ll learn new things. And there are opportunities for you here regardless of your title.

Reflections on Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research for the First Time

By Beau Steenken

In my last post, I related my experiences designing and proposing a new Specialized Legal Research (SLR) course on Foreign & International Legal Research. This time around I thought I would share my impressions of how my course went in its first iteration. I will do so by discussing what went most right, what went most wrong, what went kind of right and kind of wrong, and the changes I plan to make in the next iteration (which will occur in the Fall 2018 semester.) Before I get to the analysis, though, I’d like to thank the seven wonderful UK Law students who were intrepid enough to take a brand new course and serve as my guinea pigs!

· What Went Most Right: “Partner Meetings”
My class featured three graded assignments, one for each of the subparts of the course (foreign legal research, international legal research, and European Union legal research). I generally tried to give the students two weeks for each assignment, and midway through the assignment window I required students to come conduct a mock “partner update meeting” with me. This was partially so that I could ensure everyone was on track as the topics were mostly brand new for all of my students, but it also served to fulfil the A.B.A. requirements for self-reflection in experiential simulation courses.i The simulated partner meetings exceeded my expectations. All of my students came in prepared having already conducted significant research on their problems. They also all happily engaged in self-assessment and rightly felt more confident with some sources than others. Finally, none of the students had fully exhausted their available research avenues, so they (and their assignments) all benefited from the meetings for which they were appreciative.

· What Went Most Wrong: Lecture/Discussion Balance
I tried to run my course as a simulation course in preparation of offering it as a way for students coming in under the new ABA rules to use it towards their experiential requirement.ii As such, I treated my class as a mock firm, and planned to deliver most instruction via discussion. We even met in the law school’s committee conference room. Unfortunately, I often found myself drifting back into lecture, as the topics were—well—foreign to my students. While a classroom instructional component remains a part of simulation courses,iii I think that I need to balance it better next time to keep students active more of the time.

· What Went Kind of Right and Kind of Wrong: Assignments
As mentioned above, I had three assignments. In the first, students prepared powerpoint presentations comparing the immigration laws and structures of three different jurisdictions. In the second, they prepared an internal memo recommending one of three possible international defenses for the use of armed force by a fictitious state. Finally, they wrote a client letter to a fictitious American toymaker advising the client whether or not taking steps to accept an offer to expand into the French market would make economic sense after an initial glance at E.U. laws on toy safety. I graded each
assignment with an outcomes-based rubric to track achievement of my course learning outcomes. The assignments went kind of right in that my students did in fact achieve many of the learning outcomes for the course. The assignments went kind of wrong in the fact that my course evaluations universally indicated that the amount of work that went into the assignments would have been more appropriate for a three hour credit course than a one hour credit course.

· Changes for Next Time
When I teach the course again next fall, I plan to do a couple of things differently to mitigate what went wrong last time. First, I am going to take a couple of steps to improve the lecture discussion balance. I think I am going to have students prepare oral reports to their fellow students on some instructive topics. I am also going to teach the international component (which I know better) before the foreign component, as I think I will establish a better balance with the material with which I am most comfortable. I also plan on reducing the size of assignments, possibly by breaking students into groups, so that each student only gets a single issue or jurisdiction, while allowing them to provide evaluation/synthesis as a group.

In conclusion, while I certainly enjoyed my first round of teaching Foreign and International Legal Research, there were definitely areas where I found I could improve. I am greatly looking forward to my second attempt next fall to see how the class improves in its second iteration!

i ABA Standard 303(a)(3)(iv).
ii See ABA Standards 303(a)(3), 304(a).
iii ABA Standard 304(a)(iii)ABA Standard 304(a)(iii).

Teaching Foreign Customary Law: Tips and Tricks

By Susan Gualtier

Researching foreign customary law can be a difficult process, so it is no surprise that many FCIL librarians struggle with how to teach this topic to law students.  Nonetheless, in my experience, it is a topic that students enjoy and that most have not previously encountered.  I was fortunate enough to experience the customary law research process as a student in the Georgetown University Law Center’s Women’s Human Rights Clinic in 2002, which included a fact-finding mission to Tanzania funded by a USAID grant.  My participation in the clinic was a life-changing experience that I was happy to revisit when I entered the law library profession in 2011.  However, teaching customary law in a classroom setting, without the opportunity to work with and speak to people who are subject to these laws, presents some challenges.  Having now taught this topic at both Louisiana State University, as part of my own FCIL research course, and at the University of Pennsylvania, as a guest lecturer, I offer the following thoughts on how to approach teaching this difficult topic.

  1. It is difficult for students to visualize customary law systems. Because most students will not have traveled to countries with customary law systems, and almost certainly will not have done legal work there even if they have visited, it can be difficult for them to visualize the customary law process, or even the people to whom customary law applies.  The wide variety of countries and regions practicing customary law, as well as the variability of customary law itself and of those who apply and enforce it, can also make it difficult to imagine and to explain.  I believe that it is important not to make customary law sound too “primitive” or to stereotype those to whom it applies.  I have found that photos (of courthouses, villages, or local attorneys, for example) can help illustrate the larger context in which customary law is applied.  If the course schedule provides enough time, a well-places documentary like Invoking Justice can help students to visualize customary and other unfamiliar legal systems.
  2. Some students will struggle to recognize customary law as a legitimate legal system. While the topic of customary law has generally been well-received by my students, I can remember two or three who struggled to accept that customary law is a fully formed type of legal system on par with common law, civil law, and religious law systems.  I believe that this stems from either the tendency to view customary law as primitive or outdated, or the objection to customary laws as necessarily discriminatory.  Both can be discussed in the classroom while at the same time emphasizing customary law’s depth and complexity as a legal system.  While customary laws can indeed be discriminatory, I have found that a thoughtful discussion of how they can be discriminatory and of why specific laws developed the way they did refocuses the students’ attention on the complexity of customary law systems and of the customary law research process.  It also helps to point out the history of customary law in Europe and how it affected and grew into the common law and the earliest civil codes.
  3. It helps to offer a case study. When I taught customary law at LSU, I had the luxury of giving the topic an entire class session, which allowed for a more in-depth discussion of customary law in practice in addition to an overview of the research process and resources.  As background reading, I asked my students to read a law review article, Tamar Erez, Inheritance Law in Tanzania: The Impoverishment of Widows and Daughters, 7 J. Gender & L. 599 (2006), describing the work of my women’s human rights clinic at Georgetown.  Articles offering case studies on customary law research are in abundance in databases like HeinOnline.  Though I have in the past assigned an article relating directly to my own experience, I did so because I could speak to it with first-hand knowledge.  More recent articles, and articles on a variety of different countries and regions, are certainly available.  Even without class time to discuss a case study in detail, offering one as background reading can help the students to approach the lecture with the beginning of an understanding of how customary law is practiced in real life.  As an alternative, a case study can be offered as suggested reading for any students who find the topic of customary law interesting or who wish to explore it in their final projects or in their writing seminars or clinics.

    GoT Meme

  4. It can help to include a pop culture reference. I like to use the Dothraki in Game of Thrones.  While we do not see a tremendous amount of their legal system in the books, and even less in the tv series, we do repeatedly hear reference to rules and laws of Dothraki life, followed by characters stating that “it is known.”  A simple meme has been enough to offer a visual for those of my students who have read the books or watched the show.
  5. The students will have to use their imaginations. Realistically, most research students will never encounter customary law in their doctrinal classes or in practice.  This does not mean that it is not worth teaching.  However, some allowance will need to be made for the fact that they are not going to have the experience of interviewing people about how the law is applied on the ground.  Nonetheless, I try not to limit my research problems or examples to the narrow topics that they might encounter as practitioners here in the United States, or that they can research in their entirely using secondary sources.  Asking them to imagine the questions they would ask or the obstacles that they anticipate in the research process can be as instructive as having them locate concrete sources.
  6. A solid in-class or take-home assignment can make or break the class. A good research assignment in customary law will encourage the students to imagine on-the-ground research, as well as to find useful sources from their own location, which helps them to see that customary law topics are approachable and able to be researched.  I generally revert to a human rights question, because I have the most experience there, and because it is generally interesting to most of my students.  For my first customary law lecture at Penn, I used the following problem as a post-class assignment, which combined elements of both customary and Islamic law:

Imagine that you are part of a small group of human rights attorneys and are just beginning a project involving intestate succession in Kenya.  Your project will focus primarily on the inheritance rights of women and of children deemed to be “illegitimate.”  You will eventually be traveling to Kenya on a grant-funded fact-finding mission, but for now, you must gather as much information as possible on the country’s legal system, the laws in force, and the application and enforcement of those laws.

Create a research plan that will allow you to begin drafting a report on which to base your fact-finding mission.  Which sources will you consult?  Which issues do you think will need to be fleshed out through interviews or other research when you arrive in Kenya?

If you have time, look at some of the websites that we have discussed and try to find some preliminary information on both the religious and customary laws in Kenya and how they treat questions of inheritance.  Identify, if possible, any issues that you think may arise from Kenya’s mixed legal system.

This problem allowed the students to explore all of the potential sources that I had covered in class, as well as to imagine real-life factors that might complicate the laws’ application, identify possible research difficulties, and begin brainstorming questions for interviews or for additional research based on what they found during their preliminary searches.  When putting together research problems, I often start with the U.S. State Department’s Human Rights Reports, which frequently identify human rights issues arising out of customary law.  I then build my problem from there to incorporate other resources, as well as any complicating real-life factors or relevant statutes or international issues, if I am going to include them in the problem.

  1. Much of your teaching can take place while giving feedback. The feedback phase is a chance to see what the students have absorbed and the sources to which they have gravitated, and to offer additional insight into the complex area of customary law, particularly when it comes to possible next steps beyond secondary source and internet research.  When I assigned the above research problem, I let the students know that it was complicated and asked them not to spend more than approximately one hour on it.  The students all did very well, and all identified a majority of the sources that I expected them to find.  However, the feedback phase was a valuable opportunity not only to highlight the easy-to-find sources that we covered in class, but to talk about some sources that were more difficult to find.  I also discussed how these sources could help the researcher to identify potential problems with application, enforcement, and choice of law, and to anticipate questions that would need to be explored during future stages of the research process.  (For a copy of my written feedback on this assignment, please feel free to contact me directly.)

Customary law may be a difficult topic to approach as a research instructor, but I believe that students enjoy it and that it should be included in any class that purports to cover foreign legal research.  I have had a surprising number of students choose customary law topics for their final projects in my research courses, always with great success.  I hope that this post will build upon recent AALL programming and existing guides on customary law research, and help my colleagues to approach this topic not only as researchers, but as instructors, as well.

If you are interested in customary law, please join the Customary and Religious Law Interest Group (CARLIG) on My Communities.  We look forward to hearing your thoughts and questions!

New FCIL Librarian Series: So Much to Learn and Do

By Jessica Pierucci

This is the first in a series of posts documenting my first year as a foreign, comparative, and international law (FCIL) librarian. I started in this newly-created role at the UCI Law Library in July 2017. The aim of this series is to document my year in the hope of inspiring aspiring FCIL librarians to join the field (and hopefully not scaring them away!) by discussing one librarian’s experience entering the field.

i_law_books_1I have officially been an FCIL librarian for nearly four months.  Diving in headfirst as a new FCIL librarian, and the first FCIL librarian at the UCI Law Library, I keep discovering how much more I want to learn and do in this position. This first post will cover some of the first major things I’ve done in this position as I become aware of everything I have to learn and start to bring my vision for the FCIL librarian role to life.

Before starting this position, I took advantage of opportunities to familiarize myself with FCIL research. In my prior role at the UCI Law Library, I took on a number of research projects requested by faculty on FCIL topics. I also joined groups where FCIL librarians congregate, such as FCIL-SIS and Int-Law, to start hearing the buzz from librarians worldwide. As time permitted, I also spent some time with background resources such as GlobaLex, Foreign Law Guide, ASIL ERG, law school created FCIL research guides, and books on FCIL research. All of this helped me prepare for my new role, but I knew I was only scratching the surface.

Just after my appointment as an FCIL librarian, I attended the 2017 AALL Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. I attended every FCIL-related meeting or session I could find to kick start my entry into the field. Meeting FCIL librarians across the country, hearing about their work, and attending FCIL-focused sessions was a fantastic, whirlwind orientation. I learned about their experience teaching FCIL research, creating guides and reviews of FCIL resources, selecting resources, promoting the FCIL librarian community, and other endeavors. I left the conference further inspired to implement my vision for FCIL librarianship at the UCI Law Library. i_law_books_2

As soon as I returned from the conference, I put my inspiration to work. This fall semester, UCI Law welcomed the inaugural class of its L.L.M program. The program focuses on American Law and is designed primarily for lawyers trained outside United States. In anticipation of their arrival, I created a new research guide for international L.L.M. students. Along with a primer on legal research tools, the research guide provides an outline of key library services for students and information on materials developed specifically for international L.L.M. students. I then used this guide as part of a library orientation for the new students, which included discussion of the use and culture of law libraries at law schools in the United States.

I also started working with the law school’s Jessup International Law Moot Court team. My first step over the summer was to work with the team’s faculty advisor and the library’s head of collection development to ensure Jessup students would have access to foundational international law treatises and texts. At the beginning of the fall semester, the Jessup team requested a training on relevant legal research techniques. This was an exciting opportunity for me to dive into teaching public international law research. Preparing for this training afforded me time to become more familiar with a variety of print and online resources. This work informed my updates to the Jessup research guide. I very much enjoyed meeting with the Jessup team and look forward to working with Jessup students more this year and in the years to come.

I’m excited by the opportunities that already arose to use and grow the library’s FCIL services and for the future opportunities to develop this position. By the time this post is published, I’ll be in the midst of my first IALL Annual Course hosted this year in Atlanta, Georgia. I can’t wait to see what new inspiration this conference will bring!

Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research — From the Beginning

By Beau Steenken

First, allow me to start with a brief disclaimer: though I will be contributing regularly to DipLawMatic Dialogues on the topic of teaching FCIL research, I have taught a course on the subject exactly one time. In fall of 2014, I read an LRSQ article by Cassie DuBay about specialized legal research (SLR) courses and how they represent an improvement over offering just the traditional Advanced Legal Research (ALR).[1] The article got me to thinking about proposing an FCIL-themed course, and the following spring our faculty voted to shift research instruction at the University of Kentucky College of Law (UK Law) to an ALR-SLR rotation, with ALR to be followed by three distinct SLRs, so that we have an upper-level research course offered each semester. My Foreign & International Legal Research course was the first SLR to be offered at UK Law in the Fall 2016 Semester. I will teach it again in Fall of 2018.

Because I am relatively new to teaching FCIL research, and because my class, being new, is still fairly fresh in my mind, I thought I would use my first blog post to go over the steps I took in creating the course. After all, teaching FCIL differs enough from 1L research that it requires a lot of preparatory work before you even get to the teaching part.

Screenshot-2017-10-10 Syllabi and Course Material DatabaseThe first preparatory step that I took was to consult the database of FCIL syllabi that the Teaching FCIL Interest Group of FCIL-SIS maintains on the FCIL-SIS website.[2]  Being able to consult and compare syllabi actually used by more experienced FCIL-SIS colleagues proved invaluable. It also made apparent the need to make an initial choice that I had not considered before looking at the syllabi, namely the decision whether to propose a 1 hour or a 2 hour course. While syllabi are available for either possible iteration, ultimately I settled on a 1 hour course for purely local reasons. First, our ALR is a 2 hour course, and I felt like the SLRs should offer less credit so that students would view them as an addition to ALR as opposed to a replacement. Also, I suspected that offering a 1 hour course might help drive enrollment as UK Law did not have any other 1 hour courses, and over the years I have often overheard students in the library discussing the fine art of schedule-balancing (an art which appears to have the twin goals of staying on pace to graduate while avoiding overloading any one semester).

After choosing the 1 hour format, I focused on 1 hour syllabus samples to gather inspiration on how to fill out my draft syllabus. Based on previous interactions with journal students trying to track down comparative authorities, I knew that in addition to Foreign and International Law components, I also wanted to emphasize European Union research. After seeing how other classes divided these subjects, I ended up with a syllabus featuring an introductory class, three foreign law classes, seven international law classes (my background is more in international law than foreign or comparative law, so the unbalanced components are probably a result of my own bias), and three E.U. classes. I did the foreign component first, followed by the international component, and then closed with the E.U. component, under the notion that E.U. research combines elements of foreign (implementing legislation) and international (treaties!) research. For the most part, I think my initial division worked ok, though when I teach the class again next year, I plan on flipping the international and foreign components, as I think the class I devoted to private international law would be a nice bridge between the two and would work better as a transition moving from international to foreign law rather than the other way around.

Around the same time that I put together the draft syllabus, I also created a list of the overall learning objectives for the proposed course. Partially this was to help in identifying what the focus of each class meeting should be, but mostly it was because the curriculum committee at UK Law started requiring outcome-mapping for all new course proposals following the ABA’s adoption of the standards requiring law schools to use outcomes-based assessment. As such, my proposed learning outcomes incorporated language from our programmatic learning objectives, but I actually found that mapping what I knew I wanted to teach to a pre-existing assessment scheme to be easier than creating outcomes completely from scratch (which I had done during a 1L curricular revamp several years before the ABA and UK Law adopted outcomes based education more broadly). I settled on seven broad course outcomes that could then be tweaked for individual class sessions and individual assignments (the bold parenthetical language are the programmatic outcomes that correspond to my course outcomes):

  • In completing weekly pre-class and in-class exercises, as well as periodic graded assignments, students will find relevant foreign and international legal authorities and apply them to given fact patterns. (#2 – applying rules of law to a focused area of law, namely international law)
  • In order to find relevant authorities, students will learn to recognize the varying sources of law used by foreign/international jurisdictions and the limitations of those sources of law. (#5 – explain ways in which laws are made, what gives different forms of law authority, and how authority is limited)
  • Students will conduct research based on hypothetical fact patterns, since real world research derives from fact patterns. (#10 – analyze a set of facts to determine what legal issues are presented)
  • Students will conduct research before class, in class, and after class. Readings will be about research, as will class discussions. (#11 – research the law)
  • Through exercises, students will read research results to determine whether their gathered authorities answer the hypothetical problems. (#12 – read and interpret complex legal documents)
  • Students will deliver the results of pre-class assignments as practice emails, the results of in-class exercises orally, and the results of post-class graded assignments as written research logs. (#17 – communicate clearly and effectively in oral and written form, including electronic media)
  • Throughout the course, students will be researching foreign and international laws, often teaching themselves about legal systems as a first step. (#25 – self-directed learning to close knowledge gaps.)

 The final decision that I made during the proposal phase then dealt with how to assess the outcomes identified above, in other words, what sort of assignments to include in the draft syllabus. The syllabi I consulted contained a range of different assignment types from traditional legal hypotheticals to more bibliographic focused student reports on either a topic under international law or a foreign jurisdiction. I chose the former for a couple of reasons. First, I thought hypothetical based assignments would make assessing my identified outcomes easier. Second, I noticed that a lot of the syllabi requiring student reports tended to be of the 2 hour variety, and I did not want to give up any of my limited class time in a 1 hour course. Midway through the course-approval process, I discovered a third reason to lean towards hypothetical-based assignments in that our curriculum committee wanted me to adjust the course to satisfy the new ABA requirements for experiential learning courses. This required “practice simulation” assignments as opposed to broader research assignments.

The four initial steps described above; namely, choosing a course format, constructing a syllabus, identifying learning outcomes, and drafting sample assignments; took me a couple of months to complete but resulted in a successful course proposal. Thus, I was able to teach Foreign & International Legal Research for the first time last fall. My next post on DipLawMatic Dialogues will focus on my experiences actually teaching the course for the first time. In the meantime, I encourage anyone considering proposing FCIL research as a new course to get a jump start by consulting the Teaching FCIL Interest Group’s Syllabi Database!

[1] Cassie DuBay, Specialized Legal Research Courses: the Next Generation of Advanced Legal Research, 33 LEGAL REFERENCE SERV. Q. 203 (2014).

[2] FCIL-SIS, Syllabi and Course Material Database, AALLNet, https://www.aallnet.org/sections/fcil/teaching/syllabi (last visited October 9, 2017).