Organizing and Participating in the “Open Access to Legal Knowledge in Africa” Workshop in Uganda

By Heather Casey

uganda2This past December, I had the privilege of traveling to Kampala, Uganda and assisting with a workshop on Open Access to legal knowledge in Africa. It was for law librarians in Anglophone Africa. The workshop was organized through the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA), in cooperation with the International Association of Law Libraries (IALL). It was sponsored by IFLA, IALL, and HeinOnline.

I was one of several organizers – with me were Mark Engsberg (Emory University), Joe Hinger (St. John’s University), Caroline Ilako (Markerere University), Sonia Poulin (Alberta Law Libraries), and Bård Tuseth (University of Oslo). Over the course of several months, we worked to bring together a group of African law librarians that came from the following countries: Uganda, Ghana, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and South Africa.

Our goals for the workshop were to empower participants to utilize the potential of open access legal sources in legal research. The workshop offered a method to build a network of law librarians across Africa in order to share knowledge and assist each other in solving practical legal research questions. Participation provided an overview of open access legal sources worldwide, the practical skills required to benefit from them, and an opportunity to establish contact with colleagues from different countries.

uganda1One essential component of the workshop was for every participant to give a presentation. Most were 5 minutes long and organizers spoke from 15 minutes to 45 minutes on various topics with Q&A sessions afterward. Our reasons behind having every participant give a presentation were several; first, it encouraged each participant to plan for the workshop and guaranteed active participation. Second, each participant shared information on the legal research environment in their jurisdiction, which allowed for other participants to learn more about jurisdictions outside their own. It also assisted with networking, as each presentation allowed participants to better acquaint themselves with one another. Getting up in front of their peers gave each participant a chance to exercise skills in public speaking that they may not have otherwise used over the course of the two-day workshop.

We also had three breakout sessions where participants were gathered into small groups to foster discussion. Organizers joined in at each group table to act as facilitators for the small group discussions. After 45 minutes to an hour of discussion, the entire workshop group would come together and people from each group would relay their group’s findings.

As organizers, we wanted to ensure that participants would continue to contribute to a network for African Law Librarians. To that end, we established several online forums after the workshop for participants and organizers to engage in virtual and practical collaboration with international colleagues. The forums included:

So far the email chain and WhatsApp groups have been very vibrant. Participants continue to reach out to one another to discuss resources and let one another know what is happening in their jurisdictions. The website has been good for exchanging slides from the workshop and members have discussed what they would like to further do with the website.

We are excited to see this group continue in its efforts to further the goals of the workshop and look forward to further collaboration with members of the workshop. The experience was unforgettable and one I personally was truly honored and humbled to take part in. It was also very enjoyable to visit Uganda and learn more about the vibrant culture there. I look forward to visiting again.

Recap: FCIL-SIS Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research Interest Group Meeting

By Loren Turner

This year, Catherine Deane led and coordinated the Teaching Foreign & International Legal Research Interest Group meeting at the AALL Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois.  She invited three speakers to present on their teaching experiences:

  • Marylin Raisch shared a screencast, a MindMap, and a visual presentation, as examples of how she and her colleague, Charles Bjork, answer research questions in innovative ways.
  • Alexis Fetzer explained how she, as a librarian without the FCIL title, successfully proposed and taught an FCIL research course at the University of Richmond School of Law. You can read more about Alexis’s experience in the May 2016 issue of the FCIL newsletter.
  • Nina E. Scholtz spoke about her experience in creating an experiential learning course for LLM students. She shared her syllabus for that course and recommended implementing interactive discussion during class to overcome cultural differences.

An Experiential Learning Primer

Alyson Drake has published a helpful primer on the ABA’s experiential learning requirements on the RIPS-SIS blog today. Alyson has contributed significantly to FCIL-SIS through her work with DipLawMatic Dialogues. She is also Chair of the European Law Interest Group, incoming Co-Chair of the Publicity Committee, and a member of the Customary and Religious Law Interest Group.

RIPS Law Librarian Blog

by Alyson Drake

Editor’s Note: This week’s post is by incoming RIPS-SIS Vice-Chair/Chair Elect Alyson Drake. Alyson is currently the Reference and Student Services Librarian and the Coordinator of the Excellence in Legal Research Program at the Texas Tech University School of Law Library. 

Experiential educationIt’s no secret that legal education is focused primarily on producing graduates who are “practice ready.” The ABA’s increased experiential learning requirement, requiring at least six hours of experiential courses for each student, is a direct response to the argument that new attorneys lack the necessary skills to act like a lawyer from day one on the job. With new attorneys reporting that they spend 35% of their time conducting legal research, it is no stretch to argue that legal education should devote more time and energy to experiential legal research education.

Our research courses have always focused on practical skills, but what else does it take to make…

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The Special Challenge of LL.M. Students

By Jim Hart

animated-question-mark-clip-art-Kijead5iqLL.M. students face a challenge that is more daunting than the one our J.D. students face; their knowledge of their own legal systems and legal publications interferes with their learning of ours.  Indeed, it is something like learning another language.  At the beginning, it’s like doing a puzzle in which all the pieces fit.  You learn it at this stage by comparing the foreign language to your own language.  At the intermediate stage, the two languages are no longer always comparable.  A lot of pieces of the puzzle don’t fit any more and it’s confusing.  At the advanced stage students don’t compare the languages anymore.  The foreign language has become separate from the native language.  Using it is now unconscious.

At the beginning of the semester, many LL.M.s don’t seem to have a clear idea of why they have to learn legal research.  But as the semester goes by, they become increasingly engaged.  I think that the reason for this apparent disengagement at the beginning is that, like American students, the U.S. legal system is entirely new to them.  American J.D. students, on the other hand, come to law without any previous idea to interfere with their learning the system.  LL.M. students, however, are already trained in their home legal systems.

Lawyers are experts in the legal systems of their own countries, including gazettes, codes, and other publications.  Their knowledge is highly complex, implicit, and entirely automatic to them.  They have used it as professionals for some period of time.  It would be nearly impossible for such knowledge not to interfere with new learning!  Let me explain.  We represent knowledge in our minds in structures.  It doesn’t matter whether you call them schemata (sg. schema), or mental models, or frames as used by Minsky.  These structures are organized hierarchically with more general concepts encompassing more specific ones and specific concepts encompassing particular instances.  Students are just learning these concepts and structures, but experts have become so adept at using them that they are unconscious of their use.  In other words, experts use them automatically.

So when lawyers from other countries try to learn our legal system and its publications, they will find that the two systems do not have the same structures.  Some aspects of their native systems may not have corresponding features in ours at all and ours will have some aspects that their systems lack, not to mention those aspects that are partially congruent.  To make things worse, our legal publications form a bibliographic system that adds another system to the complexity.  If the foreign students come from a civil law tradition, they may have difficulty with the need for the volumes of case reporters that are essential to a common law system.  Our codes may seem like a disorganized hodgepodge of laws to someone who is used to codes that are written like philosophical treatises.  But, as they learn more about our system, they see the usefulness of our tools of legal research.

So I believe that our LL.M. students begin learning our system by comparing elements of theirs to ours.  As they learn more, they go through a period of confusion from which they emerge near the end of a semester.  At this point, they no longer compare their native system to ours.  They understand ours as a second, independent one.  This explanation is simplistic of course.  This is a blog post, after all.  I hope this will do.

I suspect that there is no complete solution to this problem.  But I also suspect that giving the LL.M. students an overview of our system that includes the bibliographic aspects at the beginning of the semester and reminding students of the role (purpose?) of the relevant publications in the system when they study them might both help.  In addition, this kind of experience can suck their self-confidence right out of them.  Give them sympathy and encouragement.  Of course a little tea and crumpets wouldn’t hurt either.

In summary, the idea is to link the structure and content of the legal system with the concomitant publications.

AALL 2015 Recap: Customary and Religious Law Interest Group Meeting

By Susan Gualtier

Front page of CARLIG flyer distributed at FCIL-SIS Exhibit Hall table.

Front page of informational flyer distributed at the FCIL-SIS Exhibit Hall table.

The Customary and Religious Law Interest Group (CARLIG) met on July 19 at 11:30 as part of the FCIL-SIS Jurisdictions Interest Groups Joint Meeting. The group briefly discussed the year’s progress, which included acquiring approximately 35 members in My Communities, developing several programming proposals for the 2015 conference, and publishing an article in AALL Spectrum describing the group’s formation, purpose, and goals. The majority of the discussion then focused on 1) improving communication with the group’s membership in order to generate better response to the My Communities posts; 2) increasing the number of blogging and book review opportunities on customary and religious law topics and soliciting participation by the group’s members; and 3) developing and prioritizing additional projects for the coming year.

CARLIG intends to continue proposing conference programming, and brainstormed a few ideas for the 2016 conference. The group discussed the possibility of putting together a panel of librarians and researchers who are currently working on comprehensive online portals or printed bibliographies of religious law resources. Kelly Buchanan, of the Library of Congress, also shared some preliminary information relating to an Islamic law program to be held at the Library of Congress in December. The group discussed potential opportunities for collaboration between CARLIG and the Library of Congress staff, which has been working on increasing the number of available customary law and religious law resources.

In addition to planning substantive programming, the group decided that CARLIG’s primary focus over the upcoming year should be to create teaching/research toolkits for customary law and for each of the major religious law systems. The purpose of these toolkits will be to encourage more librarians to incorporate customary and religious law research into their FCIL research classes or their presentations in substantive law classes. CARLIG will also work on some of the ideas proposed at the 2014 conference, including creating bibliographies of core resources for use in collection development, and identifying the major library collections in customary law and in each of the major religious law systems.

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.

Book Review: Indigenous Peoples, Customary Law and Human Rights – Why Living Law Matters

By: Xiaomeng (“Alex”) ZhangIndigenous Peoples

Brendan Tobin. Indigenous Peoples, Customary Law and Human Rights – Why Living Law Matters (Routledge, 2014). 302 p. Hardcover $145.00.

Brendan Tobin, a research fellow at Griffith University Law School with significant experience in the areas of environmental law, customary law, and global human rights law, makes a highly valuable contribution to the area of customary law and the rights of Indigenous Peoples through this well-written and thoroughly researched monograph.  The book not only provides insights to theoretical research but also offers practical guidance to both legal and non-legal professionals working in the area of human rights, environmental justice, and indigenous peoples’ rights.

Tobin’s principal purpose, through this book, is to “demonstrate the importance, legitimacy and durability of Indigenous Peoples’ legal regimes, their rights to regulate their internal affairs in accordance with their own laws, customs, and traditions, and the central role that customary law has to play in securing the realization of their human rights.”  Tobin starts with the premise that Indigenous Peoples’ rights of self-determination and autonomy are important and that customary legal regimes exist to protect those rights.  He also draws a large amount of empirical evidence showing the dire consequences of not recognizing “customary law and indigenous jurisdiction.”

Despite being recognized by many binding international legal instruments and some domestic legal tools, Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not effectively protected.  Tobin argues that neither the States nor legal professionals (such as Judges) fully appreciate the importance of customary law, a core component of most (if not all) Indigenous legal systems. As a result, many of customary legal principles are not given equal consideration as positive law during the dispute settlement and/or litigation process.

The problem that Tobin tries to resolve is a long-standing issue. There are many discussions on the (in)effectiveness of Indigenous Peoples’ rights protection.[1] There are many barriers that prevent effective protection of rights politically, economically, culturally, psychologically and judicially. Effective protection not only depends on recognizing the rights protected by legal instruments such as ratified international agreements, constitutions, statutes and case law, but also relies on implementation and enforcement of these legal instruments. Two major barriers to effective enforcement of customary law are due to the nature of custom and the nature of indigenous rights. The author is able to focus on both areas and make a thorough examination on both issues.

To sum up, there are three major contributions of this book. First, Tobin provides thorough analyses of the issues of ineffective protection of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and of ineffective implementation of customary law in indigenous legal regimes, drawing on a large amount of empirical data and major well-established theories in the area. Second, Tobin, in the second half of the book, closely examines the current (in)effective implementation of customary law in many practical areas, such as rights to land, right to culture, natural resources and traditional knowledge. Finally, Tobin also provides extensive footnotes and a comprehensive bibliography that would benefit other researchers in this area. Therefore, I would highly recommend this book to academic researchers and practitioners interested or working in the relevant fields. I also recommend this book to libraries of academic institutions, organizations and government agencies working closely with indigenous peoples.

[1] For example, see Jeremie Gilbert, Indigenous Peoples’ Land Rights under International Law: From Victims to Actors (Ardsley, NY: Transnational Publishers, 2006).