Date of this Version
Published in Legal Reference Services Quarterly 28 (2009), pp 271-280.
This article considers the question of whether there is a need for law schools to offer certification for specialization in legal research skills and discusses various approaches to legal research skills certification. The author argues that it is unnecessary to offer legal research certification as it is presupposed that a basic legal education should include instruction in how to find and read the law. Anything less is a failed legal education.
Exactly how special are legal research skills? Are they special enough to warrant certification? As a matter of fact, the act of legal researching is so intimately connected with the practice of law as to be indistinguishable. After all, is it even possible for a lawyer to practice law without reading it? And is it possible to read the law without finding it? And finding the law is not only the name of one of the great textbooks on legal research,1it's also the very act of research itself. For many years, legal research has been treated as a discipline separate from so-called doctrinal courses in law schools. But this was not always the case. In the early history of legal education, it was impossible to divide the study of law from legal researching. This essay will examine whether there's a need for legal research subject certification in the context of the development of legal research instruction in legal education.
In order to get to an understanding of how we might answer this question, we must first examine what is legal research: Is it knowledge or is it a skill? The corollary is, perhaps, even more problematic: How do we recognize someone with proficiency that warrants certification? Can a skill like this be objectively measured? In my opinion, it is questionable that it can be effectively measured. The thing that can be measured, however, is whether a student has taken the appropriate courses and passed them. In the end, this may be all that we can hope for-that students take all available research and subject specialty courses and pass them.