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.

CAFLL-WestPac Recap: Legal Research Instruction In China and Innovative Library Space Solutions

By Ning Han

The joint conference of Chinese and American Forum on Legal Information and Law Libraries (CAFLL) and AALL WestPac was held in Honolulu, Hawaii, October 7-11, 2015. The conference was a huge success and offered opportunities for law librarians from both countries to network, exchange ideas, and learn from each other. This blog post recaps a panel discussion that focused on legal research instruction in China and innovative library space solutions supporting legal education. The panel was moderated by Anne Mostad-Jensen, Head of Faculty Services at University of North Dakota School of Law.

Lee Peoples, Director and Professor of Law at Oklahoma City University Law Library, who has published extensively on innovative library space solutions, introduced the audience to the concept of user-centric library space design. The traditional notion of what an academic law library should look like has been disrupted by a combination of factors in recent years. Designing law libraries to encourage learning is the new focus. The variety of ways students use space and their learning styles should be accommodated. Professor Lee showcased the implementation of this new design notion through examples of several recently constructed or renovated academic law libraries. Data diner booths, bar-height tables, and collaborative spaces with built-in trendy technologies are no longer novel. The offering of outdoor studying space, either courtyard or roof-top, is quietly happening as well. Professor Peoples indicated that a nicely designed library space helps with admission and attracts donations. He even mentioned that many law schools have already converted the so-called “prime” space from law professor offices to student learning space. The mindset of space use and how to promote admissions, marketing, and publicity through transforming space has radically changed. Law librarians from China showed strong interest in this discussion.

Ning Han, Technical Services Librarian and Assistant Professor of Law at Concordia University School of Law and Liying Yu, Director and Professor of Law at Tsinghua University School of Law delivered the findings of their recently conducted survey. The survey aimed to find out what the current practices of legal research instruction in China are and compare them to the American legal research education practices. This new survey was derived from a 2008 survey conducted by Professor Liying Yu, which confirmed the dearth of legal research course offerings at that time. Twenty-five law schools were surveyed this time and the survey found a steady improvement of legal research course offerings in law schools in China since the last survey. The offerings of basic legal research course have gone up to 73%. ALR and SLR courses were found to be more available than in 2008. 38% of law schools surveyed are offering some sort of ALR or SLR courses. The format of the course, credit structure, teaching method, assessment method, and more were studied and compared to the U.S. approaches. Professors Han and Yu also touched on students’ and legal employers’ perception toward legal research courses and legal research skills. They also examined whether there is any feedback or regulatory system in place among legal educators, legal employers, the bar association, and Ministry of Education. A more detailed analysis of the survey will appear in the paper that Professors Han, Yu, and Mostad-Jensen are currently finishing.

Join the FCIL-SIS Electronic Research Interest Group!

Join the FCIL-SIS Electronic Research Interest Group! Make a valuable contribution to the profession and enhance your reputation!

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The Electronic Research Interest Group meets to discuss both the web presence of the group and also new developments in technology or databases.  (FCIL Newsletter 2011)  This year’s tasks will include updating some of the items on the FCIL website like Lyonette Louis Jacques & Mary Rumsey’s Jumpstart Your Foreign, Comparative, and International Research and increasing the number of contributions to the Teaching FCIL Syllabi and Course Material Database.  Some of our past efforts included:

  1. Exchanging information about FCIL-related commercial databases and other electronic resources;
  2. FCIL-related digitization projects;
  3. The revival of the FCIL blog, which became DipLawMatic Dialogues; and
  4. China’s RC Supreme People’s Court’s creation of a repository of their cases in English.

To volunteer contact James Hart at hartjw@uc.edu or 513-556-0160.

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.