Competency in Legal Research: How do you measure up?


According to one 2010 article, most students “who arrive at law school [are] overly confident in their research abilities” (39 U. Balt. L. Rev. 173). Students do not know what they do not know and they do not realize until it is too late that they should take the time to learn the skills and techniques necessary for competent legal research techniques.

This means that they don’t seek out legal research instruction, and many law school students  graduate without obtaining the required competency in the performance of legal research (39 U. Balt. L. Rev. 173).  In other words, most new lawyers are not competent in legal research.

The ABA Model Code of Professional Conduct provides that:

“A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”  (The ABA Model Code of Professional Conduct, Client-Lawyer Relationship, Rule 1.1 Competence).

One standard of competency in legal research skills is provided by the American Association of Law Libraries, “Law Student Research Competency Principles”. If you think your legal research skills are competent, you might follow the link and find out if your perception is accurate.

If you think your legal research skills are already sufficient for you to be a competent lawyer, you can attempt this CALI quiz: Legal Research Methodology to find out if there are unexpected holes in your good legal research skills. (To get your CALI code, contact reference librarian, Catherine Deane and ask for it.)

Even if you did well on the CALI test provided above, and your legal research skills really are competent, according to the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct “A lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill”. As such, if you want to attain the highest level of skill, it is a good idea to get as much help while in law school in learning how to do legal research well.

The sooner you get help learning how to do legal research, the stronger your legal research skills will be when you graduate.

How will you improve your legal research skills?

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