Theory into Practice: Coverage vs. Comprehension

It’s been quite some time since I believed that Lecturing was the best way to teach legal research.  But I still find myself having the same dialogue, internal and external, that led me to believe that it is better to sacrifice comprehensive coverage for the sake of better retention:  do I assemble everything I know about research into a carefully crafted lecture where everything fits together perfectly (what I’ve come to call the “tetris lecture”)?  Or do I sacrifice the time it would take to explain,  for example, what the appellate division of the trial court is, where its decisions are found and what authority it wields, in the name of giving students practice doing hands-on research, analyzing fact patterns and discovering effective research strategies?  The answer seems clear:  I think it’s far more important to give students practice working through complex research problems than it is to devote the time to teach them how to navigate, say, the Descriptive Word Index, when the likelihood is they’ll never use one outside of law school (if even there!).

The answer seems clear.  But the problem is, every year, it seems like there is more to cover.  Every year we want to devote more time to practical work to make sure students “get it.” And so every year it seems that there is more to sacrifice.  For example, this year we want to devote more time to having students work through transactional research problems – which is a type of practice many of our graduates wind up in.  And so this year, we are seriously considering eliminating any time devoted to public international law, because the reality is, few if any of our current class are going to end up working in international human rights, with the United Nations, or for anyone else “doing” public international law (NB: at this point we do still cover private international law research, because our graduates are much more likely to encounter issues between private parties in separate nations, than they are to encounter issues between nations themselves).   But it pains me to do this, because I know this stuff; I love this stuff.  It seems like the right thing to do, especially given all of the hub bub about “practice ready” graduates.  But the warehouse of knowledge I will likely never share – how to deftly assemble all of the necessary Shepard’s volumes and supplements for an accurate analysis, or how to link up the dates of the various lists of sections affected so as to not miss a single federal register – is growing.

Does this story seem familiar?  Are you having to sacrifice things you know and love to teach, in the name of making sure students walk away more competent and confident?  If so, what have you dropped?

Theory into Practice: Looking Forward, Looking Backward

by Nicole Dyszlewski, Roger Williams Univesrity School of Law

When Brian Flaherty started his “Theory Into Practice” posts on the LLNE blog, he asked some of the members of the LLNE Executive Board if there had been any memorable experiences they had to share of turning something they learned at an LLNE meeting (theory) into something they did at their own library (practice). I immediately emailed him that I had something to share.


Back in November, 2010, I attended the Fall LLNE meeting hosted by Northeastern University School of Law Library titled “Improve Your Workplace Health! Inoculate Against Bad Morale.” What made this meeting so memorable is that it focused heavily on bringing positivity to the workplace. The theme of the meeting resonated strongly with me and I have tried to bring some of the lessons learned from that meeting to work every day.


It is not always easy to be positive at work. In fact, sometimes (Mondays? Snowstorms?) it is downright impossible. What I learned from the Fall 2010 meeting is that there are small things we can do to try and increase morale. One of the things I do to boost my own mood is listen to upbeat music. In the registration packet for that meeting we were given a list of upbeat songs (one song on the list was Katrina and the Waves “Walking on Sunshine”!) and while I can’t say that I play “Don’t Worry Be Happy” every day before my reference shift, I can say that I have made an effort to have a few “happy” Pandora stations at my disposal when I am working on a tedious task or just need a burst of sunshine.


Another way I have worked to inoculate myself and my workplace against negativity is by adding a bit of fun to my job. For example, I regularly participate in the Green Bag’s Lunchtime Law Quiz. While the weekly question itself is released at lunchtime on Monday, you usually have a day or two to research and answer the question. While I find legal research to be fun on its own, the Green Bag quiz is a lighthearted way to take a break from serious work and flex my research muscles on something more humorous and less consequential. Not only does it give me an opportunity to discover (or re-discover) some of the resources in my library’s collection, but it gives me an opportunity to discuss possible answers with other librarians who may also be stumped on a question. If you haven’t tried it, you should!


This Spring, the LLNE meeting is being co-hosted by the University of New Hampshire School of Law LibraryThe Association of New Hampshire Law Librarians. The meeting’s theme is Mindfulness and Librarians. According to the description, “We will explore how practices will lead us, and those we serve, to… decrease stress and anxiety, cultivate and advance joy and satisfaction in the practice of law.” I look forward to attending this meeting and finding new ideas to bring back and put into practice!

Theory into Practice: CALI Author

by Brian Flaherty

In my inaugural “Theory into practice” column, I talked about taking some of the great things I took away from the AALL conference in San Antonio, and putting them into practice in my Advanced Legal Research class – specifically I had students take pictures of things that they thought were, or should be regulated. My experience incorporating this into my class was great – it went smoothly, wasn’t as much work as I thought it would be, and inspired some clear understanding of the difference between statutes, regulations, and ordinances.

Of course, my co-teacher pointed out that while everything I wrote was indeed true, I was painting an unduly rosy picture of my success in incorporating all of those nifty conference take-aways. That not everything I’ve learned-there and tried-here has gone as… smoothly as what I wrote. Perhaps, she said, I should write about something that was significantly harder to incorporate. Perhaps I should write about my experiences with CALI Author.

Why CALI Author

We’re all familiar with CALI Lessons – and we are all familiar with the fruitless search for the perfect CALI lesson: the one that will help students learn about publication patterns, online indexing, disposition tables – the things we want them to know, but don’t want to spend the time on in class. Don’t get me wrong – there is some great CALI stuff out there (some of it written by people I hope are reading this article) – but nothing that was perfect for my purposes. So several years ago, I came upon the brilliant idea to write my own. I could write it specific to my need, and could customize it to reflect internal library resources.

I downloaded an earlier iteration of CALI Author, with manual, thinking “I’m reasonably good at this stuff – I can make this work.” I proceeded to spend the next two hours feeling like I was back in the early 90s, trapped in HyperCard for Mac (for those of you who took that class at Simmons, you know what I mean). And so thinking “I’m a reasonably good teacher, I can get by with existing CALI lessons,” I deleted this earlier iteration of CALI Author, with manual.

A visit to the most recent CALI conference at Harvard convinced me to try again. Furthermore, CALI’s ever helpful Deb Quentel promised me that if I couldn’t make Author bend to my will, she would help. And so I downloaded it at the beginning of last summer, read the manual, and started making sample pages, sample questions, sample links, and saving sample lessons.

When you get the hang of it, CALI Author is clunky, but no big deal, really. In short order you can learn to learned to create pages that lead to other pages, you can create scored multiple choice exams, even add and manipulate images. But then, for example, you discover that you’ve made a mistake on page three of a twelve page lesson, so you edit or delete page three, and KA-BLAMO, everything you’ve done vanishes, only to be found in an alphabetical list of pages at the end of the list, which you didn’t know existed until AFTER that panicked Email to Deb Quentel (Thank You!). There’s a whole series I could write called “Squashing the CALI Author Bugs” – but in the interest of time I will tell you that there are many traps for the unwary, but two things proved invaluable: first, the folks at CALI – especially the ever helpful Deb Quintel – are geniuses of patience and service. And second, there is a YouTube video series that includes a great tutorial series – far easier than the manual.


So now that you’ve got your perfect CALI Author lesson, what do you do with it? The process of actually publishing a CALI lesson for public consumption takes some time – far too long if, like me, the lesson you’re writing is for use in your class next week. So CALI Author gives you the ability to publish something privately and make it available by sending the lesson URL – “AutoPublish.” Furthermore, if your students log in to CALI before doing the lesson, you can track them through the AutoPublish link on your dashboard. Again, be forewarned, the process is not as straightforward as perhaps you’d expect; you have to publish the lesson, and upload each media file separately – and every time you go back into the lesson it appears as though you have to re-upload all of the media (you don’t). But the ability to have them host the lesson that you can run privately is great.

Editing existing lessons

One of the really great features you get with CALI Author is the ability to download existing CALI Lessons and adapt them for your purposes, to target your students. For example, let’s say there is an especially great lesson that covers print statutory research, and you want to use the same structure but incorporate online research. You can download the lesson and open it up in CALI Author, then edit the images, questions, and “book pages” to include an online component. You are not editing the CALI lesson as it appears at; when you are finished, you need to AutoPublish it and send it out to your students. But it’s a great shortcut to creating targeted lessons, while avoiding some of the complex and time-consuming outlining.


You eventually manage to create what you think is the perfect CALI lesson, comparing KeyCite Shepards an BCite, showing the fallibility of citators, showing the conflicting treatment notes. You test it, you show it off, and it works nicely. But don’t get complacent… things can STILL go awry. After this steep learning curve, I finally released a lesson to do just this- point out some of the flaws and contradictory information found in citators. And wouldn’t you know it… in just one semester, one of the vendors changed their citation information! Oh well – back to the drawing board (ps: if anyone is interested, that lesson is here:

Theory into Practice: Teaching with Social Media

By Brian Flaherty

Back in July I blogged about using social media as a tool to teach legal research – the post was a review of a “deep dive” program I went to at the AALL Annual Meeting.  Going into the program I was incredibly skeptical.  I was imagining spending a good deal of time “getting up to speed” with different media and platforms, only to be met with the same eye-roll from students that I get from my kids when I give them advice on especially nifty IPhone Apps.   Nevertheless, I came away from the program with some ideas for using social media in teaching – or at least turning over some of the control to the students.

One of the ideas that came out of the program was incorporating Instagram in teaching research: have students take pictures of things they think are or should be regulated, and upload them  for others to work with.  In (or before) class, we could have students look for applicable laws and regulations – teasing out the differences between things that are dealt with in the statutes vs. things that are dealt with through administrative regulation.  Also, given the number of research exercises we have our students do, I imagined this as an opportunity to have them create some of the research exercises rather than us.

I decided to try this idea – ironically, minus the traditional “social media” aspect.  I had students take pictures and send them to me – and I used them to create a classroom presentation and exercises.  But honestly, the idea of creating an Instagram site for our class, and having everyone log into it (or subscribe to it, or follow it, or whatever one does to Instagram) was daunting.  I realized, though, that in terms of this being a “social media” exercise, I realized that we didn’t have to use one of the major platforms (Instagram) for it to be “social media.”   Having them take pictures, send them to me, and then share them with the class was a social media based exercise.

The whole thing worked out as well as I could have imagined.  I gave students two weeks to take and send pictures (I sent out the assignment the week before spring break).  In addition, I told them to spend a bit of time – no more than a half hour – looking up whatever laws and regulations they could find on their subject.  Send the photo and the regulating authority to me by email.  I created a powerpoint of most of the photographs, which we cycled through in class, researching each thing in turn.  It took a good deal of preparation on our part to know where we wanted to guide the discussion for each – but to be honest, this preparation was more enjoyable than struggling to come up with interesting topics to research.

We got a huge variety of photographs to work with – from pictures of homeless people (laws against vagrants, vagabonds and tramps, panhandling ordinances), to pictures of overflowing trash in Boston (Sanitary code, Boston City Ordinances), to a picture of a hot chocolate vending machine (Rhode Island: milk product dispensed from a vending machine).  One person took a picture of his bedroom ceiling and wrote “why is there no light on my ceiling?”  (Sanitary code: light and electric outlets in habitable rooms).  In doing these exercises in class students had do some involved searching – they had to use statutory and regulatory schemes, they had to find city ordinances, and we had them track down enabling legislation.

We will absolutely do this kind of exercise again next year.  Student were actively engaged, it got us working with unfamiliar topics, and we would up talking about why different things are governed by different types of authority, i.e. statutes vs. regulations vs. ordinances.   From here, I’m going back to my AALL notes to figure out: what other cool things are my colleagues doing that I can adapt?