Developing Legal Research Skills: Expanding the Paradigm

By Hutchinson, Terry | Melbourne University Law Review, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Developing Legal Research Skills: Expanding the Paradigm


Hutchinson, Terry, Melbourne University Law Review


[This article explores the development of tertiary legal research skills education in Australia in the underlying context of Australian legal education and the transformation of legal research resulting from advances in information technology. It argues that legal research is a fundamental skill for lawyers and that research training in a law degree must cater for the vocational needs of the individual student whether their ultimate focus is practice or higher degree research. It argues that the traditional doctrinal paradigm of legal research is no longer sufficient for modern lawyers and that exposure to additional methodologies needs to be included in research training units. This article argues that while legal research skills education has changed, it must continue to develop in order to better cater for the needs of students, the profession and the academy in the contemporary legal environment.]

CONTENTS

  I Introduction

  II A Historical Examination of How the Research Process Has Previously
    Been Defined

III What Are the Identifying Features of the Changing Environment?
    A Information Technology Affecting Legal Research
    B Australian Government Policies on Research Prompting Change
      within the Tertiary Legal Education Sector
    C Aligning Legal Research Training with Educational Theory
    D Increasing Trade in Professional Legal Services Paving the Way for
      the Transnational Lawyer

 IV Expanding the Legal Research Paradigm
    A Placing an Emphasis on Research Process Rather Than on Research
      Sources When Teaching Research
    B Suggesting a Broader Paradigm for Law That Involves Other
      Methodologies Apart from a Simple Doctrinal Approach
    C Integrating the Research and Writing Processes So That Writing
      Genres Become an Integral Part of the Research Curriculum
    D Emphasising the Different Pathways Available for Research Skills
      Training
    E Gradually Enhancing Research Knowledge and Abilities Following a
      'Point of Need' Approach to Training

  V Conclusion

I INTRODUCTION

Legal research skills training in Australia has undergone a revolution in the last two decades. A research paradigm shift has occurred, driven by the communications technology revolution, economic globalisation and corresponding changes within tertiary education, the legal profession and the legal education sector. These changes have prompted self-questioning within the legal academy about the nature of legal education, the nature of legal research and the methodologies involved. The questions have revolved around two issues: 'what is the nature and meaning of "legal research"?' and 'how is research training best achieved?'. In turn, these two very simple issues have prompted other questions such as 'what methodologies are most effective in achieving the aims of legal research?' (1)

Because the legal research agenda in universities has historically been practitioner-driven, the nature of legal research has been defined narrowly and largely confined to doctrinal research. (2) This typifies the legal practitioner model of research. However, legal research encompasses a wider concept than mere doctrinal research skills, especially if a legal academic scholarship model rather than a legal practitioner model is considered. Lawyers have tended to conflate the doctrinal methodology with the overarching paradigm, demonstrated both in praxis and in the dialogues on the issue. (3)

Consequently, legal research has been perceived as being limited to doctrinal research. The prevailing assumption has been that undergraduate and postgraduate students do not need much research training beyond a basic introduction to legal sources. This assumption arises from a belief that research is so intrinsic to the underlying legal doctrinal paradigm practiced by all lawyers that the skills would be picked up by a process akin to osmosis.

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