Platform Updates and the 1L Teaching Conundrum

Last week, Westlaw invited us to test drive Westlaw Precision a few months before the scheduled January general rollout. We are grateful for the head’s up. No instructor wants to be simultaneously learning how to use a research platform while teaching students how to use it. But it does once again present the problem of how to keep our students abreast of new technology while making sure they understand the role these products play in legal research, and this can be particularly tricky for students struggling with the nuances of jurisdiction and precedent and trying to remember what “F. Supp.” means. Do we take time out of our already material-dense classes to introduce these products to brand new researchers? If so, what materials do we omit?

In the March/April 2021 issue of AALL Spectrum, Mary Ann Neary and Sherry Xin Chen published a terrific article on introducing brief analysis tools to students, offering suggestions for how they might be introduced using exercises that illustrate the limitations inherent in the technology and their potential usefulness. Since that article was published, at least one of these products has disappeared (EVA, an ambitious open access product by now defunct Ross Intelligence), and others we don’t hear about much. By most accounts, these analyzers are most useful as a “self check” after the underlying research has been done and the work product is finished. They do not replace fundamental research tasks, but add a layer of review. This seems right, and if time and money permit, probably helpful. But do these belong in the 1L curriculum, and if so, how much time do we give?

With Westlaw Precision, we have yet another tool, and all signs indicate that when it is rolled out, it will be given center stage. We understand some law firms already have it. Although the topics covered so far don’t include the standard 1L curriculum, they do cover potential 1L appellate brief topics. I took it for a spin using an old topic, and while I have so far been unable to produce helpful search results, it was . . . fun. And now, there is yet another analytical product being rolled out, a Wolters Kluwer Securities Enforcement Analyzer. Many of our students are interested in working in the financial sector. Should this also be part of our instructional menu of analyzers?

As Neary and Chen correctly point out, our students will be subject to the duty of technology competence, and as research instructors we are on the front lines in helping students understand and use these tools. When and how to introduce which tools remain open questions. As research platforms become increasingly complex, we need to be nimble with our curriculum, but doing this without overwhelming our students is an ongoing challenge.



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