The (Mis)use of Research Assistants
As the summer starts to wind toward its
inevitable close closing stage midlife crisis eternal twilight I’ve been doing some thinking about how to maximize the use of law student research assistants. This summer, I’ve learned that in one sense, I’m a bad boss: I can’t manage to help my RAs to collect information for me in efficient ways. As my research has moved further in an interdisciplinary direction, I’ve found that the traditional front-line tools of legal research, HeinOnline, WL, and Lexis, complemented by the Web of Science, are incomplete and/or borderline useless. For example, I asked an RA to try to find the research behind Malcolm Gladwell’s observation regarding the relationship between anticipated regret and effort I blogged about here. My suggested search strategy: (1) do a search on WL/LEXIS for regret and effort; and failing that (2) read everything Gladwell had written. Ever. Option 2 took some time, but we finally nailed down the research. [Hint: he talked about the research in question in the New Yorker, and it wasn’t found in WL’s New Yorker database.]
Now, according to a librarian friend, this entire process could have taken under ten minutes in a fancy-pants humanities database. Nuts.
Tell you what: bragging honors to the first commentator to post the name for the relevant phenomena in the comments below. [Reader L.A. not eligible for bragging rights.]
More disheartening, I’ve learned from another research librarian that there is a general perception that we law-prof types are known to be weak at electronic research that doesn’t involve typing in a search into the ALLCASES database. Why is this? Perhaps it is due to the lack of an academic track in law, which means that we haven’t been tested and trained in research methods (apart from those methods necessary to be a law firm associate.) It might be that there is a connection between this lack of academic training and the length of the literature reviews that launch most law review articles: we have spent so much time finding the darn material, we want to stuff it in come hell or high water. Maybe if we were better at research, law reviews would be shorter?
While we’re on the topic of libraries, I thought I’d highlight this NYT Librarian Award announcement. Know a friendly neighborhood librarian doing good work?