by Susannah Tredwell, Lawson Lundell LLP, Vancouver, Canada
In Canada, in order to qualify as a lawyer, legal graduates must complete a year of articles under the supervision of a practising lawyer (the “principal”). The workload of these articling students tends to include a significant amount of research so law firm libraries work closely with these students. Some articling students have not performed any research since their first year legal research course while others have clerked for judges and, as a result, have excellent research skills. Working with these students is definitely one of my favourite parts of my job as a law firm librarian.
When new articling students arrive, the library provides them with library orientation and database training. We have recently integrated knowledge management and a talk from one of our research lawyers into the process. However the majority of the library training takes place over the course of the articling year when the students have actual research questions. During the articling year students will migrate from working group to working group in order to get a background in a number of different areas of law. We try to carry out refresher library training for the students every time they move into a new working group. The library also helps students with various “non-library” questions; as an example I have helped them learn the art of photocopying and composing formulae in Excel.
The articling year can be regarded as a year long job interview. As a result, some articling students are nervous about asking for help; it can be hard to admit that they do not know things. Typically we recommend that if they have spent ten minutes looking for something and have had no success, they should talk to one of the library staff. We can talk through the research problem and recommend resources and search strategies. In some cases it becomes obvious that the research a student has been assigned is beyond his or her capabilities, and that he or she needs to talk to one of our research lawyers. We don’t always know the answer but we do know where (or who) to go to to find it.
Our aim in the library is twofold: the first is to familiarize articling students with the research process in a law firm, as this can be dramatically different from the law school research process. Our second aim is to help our students to efficiently produce answers to the questions that they have been asked.
Every year, at the end of the articling year, roughly half the articling students tell me that they never want to do research again. We don’t take it personally; the important thing is that they know the library is there for them when they need case law or legislation, books, or research, and that they understand what the library can do for them. The students of today are the associates and partners of the future; developing a good working relationship for the future with them is essential.