Posted in Teaching, Uncategorized

Millennials, Learning, and Legal Research

This week I’ve been reading over a few technology-related law books we’ve recently added to our collection, and I was quite interested in how the material related both to my role as the educational technology librarian and as a lecturer in our legal research and writing program here at Maurer Law.

One of the books in particular, The Millennial Lawyer by Ursula Furi-Perry, has some very interesting insights into the generational differences between the millennial generation (also referred to as Generation XY) and older generations who will likely be hiring these younger individuals for summer clerkships and (hopefully!) post-graduation.  The major differences that are affecting workplace relationships primarily involve learning styles and attitudes toward technology.

Naturally, these two major differences are linked together: as Furi-Perry explains, today’s law students have grown up with technology at their fingertips; they’re considered “just in time” learners, who tend to only focus on information that they need at that moment; this is contrasted with older generations who are considered “just in case” learners, who tend to store away information in case the need arises to use it (122).  This understanding is nothing new – educators in all disciplines are slowly adapting their teaching methods to be more interactive, as Millennials are less responsive to the straight lecture method of teaching.

Fortunately, Furi-Perry suggests that these differences can work to the firm’s advantage.  Clearly, new attorneys still need to be taught the ropes when it comes to the practice of law, but they should be encouraged to put their technical skills to use.  Social media publicity is an increasing trend in law firms, and that responsibility could naturally fall to a younger associate; however, the same ethical standards apply – that’s where the experience of the practiced attorney comes into play.  For those firms that are attempting to break into technology, Millennials might be able to offer their own insight – take cloud computing for example: Gradually companies are coming forward with safe methods for securing client files in the cloud; Millennials, likely to be familiar with cloud storage, should be able to offer insight as to the pros and cons that must be considered when choosing cloud storage options for confidential files.  These are just a few examples of how the mixture of generations within a firm could actually strengthen the firm in the long run.

But none of this relates to my job and what I found so inspiring about this book.  Beyond the technology aspects of my job, my colleagues and I are tasked with introducing the 1Ls to the basics of legal research.  While they are still required to complete shorter research assignments with paper materials (a task that I believe all of us feel is still an important skill to have), our lectures focus on electronic legal research.  Having completed my two fall lectures prior to reading through this book, I used its insights to reflect on my teaching methods.  As one of my colleagues, who has seen each of us lecture, observed, all the reference librarians here have very different lecture styles.  While some go into the nitty-gritty of all the features available in Lexis Advance and Westlaw Next, it has been observed that I move a little slower, offer a little more explanation, and focus more on the task at hand.

For our lectures, we are made aware of the ongoing research assignment the students are to complete through electronic research, and the writing professors identify a few specific things they would like us to point out in the lecture.  The observation about how my lecturing differs from my colleagues’ concerned me initially – I worried that perhaps I was “teaching to the test” as it were – however, after reading this book, I think my approach reflects the “just in time” mentality of my students.  In each of the lectures I have completed, I began by reviewing their research scenario, discussed why we needed to complete the type of research I was about to show them, and then proceeded to conduct the research with them, always relating it back to the research scenario and the methods they should employ as they replicate this research for their assignment.  In essence, I tried to stay practical and show them what they needed to know for the task at hand.  Perhaps in the spring my lectures can become more detail-oriented, as the students will then be more familiar with the databases, but for now (thanks to my reading of Furi-Perry’s book) I feel confident that I have sent them off with the skills they need to begin their legal research.  I was also led to wonder why my approach went the practical route – I do so enjoy the bells and whistles these databases offer! – but I’ve concluded that perhaps my just-in-time teaching style stems from the fact that I am also of the Millennial generation (though being born in the ’80s I’ve just made the cut!), so perhaps over the years I’ve come to appreciate this method of learning.

(FYI – I have also read elsewhere that Millennials tend to scan rather than actually read large volumes of text, so most likely my method of writing, which tends toward the verbose, is a little too “old school” to effectively reach my students!  Perhaps that’s something I should work on as well…)

Author:

I am the Assistant Director for Public Services at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law. My research interests include exploring how emerging and existing technologies can be used to enhance library services and legal education as well as how to address knowledge gaps and meet the educational expectations of today's law students.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s