(LIS 617)

Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science 1998 Spring Term Instructor: Prof. Sara Robbins Tuesdays, 6:30 - 8:20 p.m. Brooklyn Law School Rm. 113M (in the Library, enter through Lobby entrance)  


1. Course Description, Goals, and Objectives

Course Description
This course will introduce students to the specialized nature of legal bibliography and research.  This will be accomplished through the study of the unique tools of legal research, as well as the range of techniques and strategies necessary to accomplish effective research. The class will also discuss current developments in the fields of legal literature and research, including the developments in electronic resources and technologies and the legal publishing business.

 The Pratt Institute Graduate Bulletin, 1997-98 describes this course as follows:

" ... offers an analysis of the systematic approach used in the legal profession and law libraries to find the law through the use of printed materials and electronic information sources; introduction to the legal process and the basic principles of American law are included."

This course, though, must be seen as a basis only, upon which the student must continue to build. Both the practice of law and law librarianship are undergoing massive changes because of the explosion of technological developments, so much so that legal research, and even the law library profession itself, are completely different endeavors than they were just ten years ago.  Consequently, this course will focus on the basic nature and characteristics of this unique area of research and bibliography that will, it is anticipated, continue to constitute its main structure.

The goal of the course is to provide future librarians with a foundation in this unique area of research.  This basis will help them to assist their patrons in the variety of legal research questions that arise in all types of libraries – individuals seeking general legal information, scholars and students performing scholarly research, pro se litigants handling their own legal problems, and lawyers needing professional guidance in the course of their professional activities.

Among the objectives for this course, which will be developed through class lectures and discussions, research exercises, source evaluations, and a final examination, are:

2. Prerequisite Courses
The only prerequisite for this course is the basic "Information Sources" (LIS 602).  It is also helpful, but not required, for students to have had both "Online Searching and Services" (LIS 605) and "Government Information Sources" (LIS 613).  Those students who have already taken "Database Retrieval in Law" (LIS 626) will find a strong overlap between that course and this one, but the focus and direction are quite different.

3. Course Requirements
The requirements for students include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:

If a student is absent from class, it is the student's responsibility to obtain any notes, handouts, exercises, etc. from either another classmate or the professor.  It is also the student's responsibility to arrange for delivery of any materials due for submission to the instructor at that class meeting.

Exercise No. 

Exercise Focus

Date Distributed

Date Due


Case Law Research




Statutory Law  Research




Leglislative Process Research




Administrative Law Research




Secondary Sources Research




Online Research



Source Evaluations
In addition to each exercise, each student will complete and submit a "Source Evaluation Form", which will be distributed by the instructor.  The student should attach the evaluation to his/her exercise when it is submitted. A vital part of the legal research process is the ability to evaluate the various resources used so that one can make considered judgments as to which should be used, when, how and why.  For each assignment, select only ONE of the sources used to complete the exercise.  The "Source Evaluation Form" asks the student to note and to think about the following elements of the research tools used:

Bibliographic Information: information that specifically identifies the source

Content Information: information that describes the organization and content of the source, such as the particular subject or topic covered by it, the breadth and depth of such coverage, the time frame of the included information (is it a current awareness tool, does it cover the current state of the law, is it an historical source), and who the book is intended for (law students, practitioners, professors or scholars, lay persons, general researchers, etc.); how one locates information within the source, such as indexes, tables of contents, hierarchies of information, highlighted segments/fields, etc.; what special features does the source use or provide that assists in the legal research process (such as bibliographies, footnotes, tables, etc.); and how the source is kept up-to-date, so that the information within can be relied upon by the legal researcher.
Evaluation of source: this section asks for each student's individual opinion of the source and its value in the legal research process: the ease of use of the source (what kind of learning curve is involved before one can use it effectively); how clear is the information provided; how helpful is the information for this particular research problem and for other situations; how does manual use compare with computerized use of the source (if applicable); how does this source fit into the research process; how reliable does the student think the source is (who wrote it, are there lots of mistyped words or incorrect citations, who publishes it, who maintains it, will it exist tomorrow? next month? next year?, etc.); in what other formats is this source available (online, CD-ROM, microform, etc.)

Generally speaking, these exercises are to be the work of each individual student.  It may be a cliché, but this is a course where students learn skills; if each student doesn't make the effort to work with the various tools and publications, he/she will fail to achieve the basic objectives of this course.  It is understood by the instructor, though, that students often form study groups and collaborate on assignments.  In fact, such interchanges among students can be beneficial for increased understanding of the subjects and processes at hand.  Given this, any students who do collaborate on exercises must clearly note this fact on their individually submitted exercises, noting the means and extent of collaboration, and the other students in the group.  Each student must do the "Source Evaluation Form" on his/her own, without collaboration since this calls for individual, personal judgment of the publication.
      Final Examination
Students will have one, final, examination for this class, which will be a take home exam distributed at the next to last class (May 5, 1998) and which is to be submitted to the instructor at the beginning of the last class (May 12, 1998).

The final examination MUST BE SOLELY THE WORK OF THE INDIVIDUAL STUDENT.  No collaboration is acceptable for the final exam.

4. Evaluation/Assessment
 Final grades will take into account the various course requirements described above, in the following proportions*:


Attendance and Participation




Source Evaluations


Final Examinations




* This weighting is tentative, subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.  Every effort will be made, though, to abide by this plan.

5. Instructor Availability
Since the instructor is the director of the Brooklyn Law School Library, she should be reached there; she will not be available at either of the Pratt campuses.  She can be reached as follows:

Mail Address: Prof. Sara Robbins
Brooklyn Law School
250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
 Phone: 718-780-7980
 Fax:  718-780-0369

 Office Hours: Tuesdays, 4:30-6:00 p.m., or by appointment.

6. Texts

Required textbook:
Kunz, Christina L. et al.  The Process of Legal Research.  4th ed.  Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1996. [referred to in the Class Schedule as "Kunz"]

This book is available now in the Pratt Bookstore (718-636-3620).  The Bookstore's hours are: Mon.-Thurs., 8:30a.m. - 7:00p.m., Fri., 8:30a.m.-5:00p.m., and Sat 12 noon - 5:00p.m.

Additional readings will be assigned at various times throughout the semester.  These will generally be articles or other legal research texts, copies of which will be placed on Reserve in the Brooklyn Law School Library.  Efforts will also be made to have copies available at the Pratt Brooklyn campus.

 Recommended texts:

Cohen, Morris L., Robert C. Berring, and Kent C. Olson.  How to Find the Law.  10th ed.  St. Paul, MN: West, 1989 [referred to in the Class Schedule as "Cohen"]

 Berring, Robert C.  Finding the Law. 10th ed.  St. Paul, MN: West, 1995. [referred to in the Class Schedule as "Berring"]

The Bluebook: a Uniform System of Citation.  16th ed.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard Law Review Association, 1996.

7. Class Schedule






Feb. 3

Introduction, American Legal System, Research Process, Citation Format; Tour of BLS Library



Feb. 10

Publishing Business Issues; Media Issues (Intro); Language of the Law

Kunz, chaps. 103, pp. 1-42 Berring, chap. 1, pp. 1-12 Cohen, chap., 1, pp. 1-10


Feb. 17

Case Law

Kunz, chap., 6, pp. 127-141 Berring, chap. 2, pp. 13-55 Cohen, chap., 2, pp. 12-52 Exercise 1 distributed


Feb 24

Case Law Research; Shepard's Citations

Kunz, chap., 6, pp. 142-174 Berring, chap., 3-4, pp. 56-127 Cohen, chap, chap.3-4, pp. 54-112-


Mar. 3

Statutory Law

Kunz, chap., 7, pp. 175-212 Berring, chap. 5, pp. 128-149, 159-161 Cohen, chap., 5, pp. 143-164, 177-182. Exercise 2 distributed


Mar. 10

Statutory Research; Shepard's Citations  

Berring,chap. 5, pp. 150-158, 162-163 Cohen, chap. 5, pp. 164-175, 183-189 Exercise 2 due


Mar. 17

Legislative Process Material  

Kunz, chap. 8, pp. 231-272 Berring, chap. 6, pp. 168-199 Cohen, chap. 7, pp. 217-259 Exercise 3 distributed


Mar. 24

Administrative Process Material

Kunz, chap. 9, pp. 273-325 Berring, chap. 8, pp. 219-256 Cohen, chap. 8, pp. 261303 Exercise 3 due Exercis 4 distributed


Mar. 31



Apr. 7

Secondary Sources

Kunz, chap.4, pp.46-118 Berring, chap. 10, pp. 283-429 Cohen, chaps. 11-13, pp. 358-429 Exercise 4 due


Apr. 14

Secondary Sources (cont'd)

Exercise 5 distributed


Apr. 21

Online Research

Kunz, chap. 3, pp. 27-40 LEXIS-NEXIS, WESTLAW materials (req. will be distributed in class) Exercise 5 due Exercise 6 distributed


Apr. 28

Online Research (cont'd)

Materials will be distributed in class


May 5

Research Strategies

Kunz, chap. 12, pp. 387-406 Berring, chap. 7 pp. 299-307 Cohen, chap. 18, pp. 590-607 Exercise 6 due FINAL EXAM DISTRIBUTED


May 12