Book Review: The Process of Legal Research
The Process of Legal Research: Authorities and Options
Kluwer Law and Business, 8th ed., 2012
ISBN # 978-1-4548-0552-6
This is the new eighth edition of Christina Kunz’s classic legal research book, first published in 1986. The most recent past edition is from 2008. As the primary authors of the current edition, Deborah A. Schedemann, Ann L. Bateson, and Mehmet Konar-Steenberg, note, Prof. Kunz no longer works on the book. (But according to Rate My Professor, she still teaches a difficult contracts course).
Prof. Anthony S. Winer contributes 11.5 pages on (mostly public) international law, and Prof. Sarah Deer added 2.5 pages on tribal law research, in what must be remarkable abridgements from their respective book-length treatments of the topics, A Basic Course in Public International Law Research (2005) and Introduction to Tribal Legal Studies (2nd ed., 2010). This edition of The Process of Legal Research (PLR) is a little more than half as long as previous editions, echoing a trend by others to streamline legal research classics. It also features charts, other graphics, and sample pages galore, a la Amy Sloan’s efforts. Such an approach seems to be the way to go, given the state of legal education today, though admitting so may disappoint my librarian colleagues who also read Mersky, Dunn, and Barkan for fun. (And for the content. And for the pictures!)
The subtitle (Authorities and Options) distinguishes this edition a bit from previous editions (Successful Strategies). Chart 1.1 describes the following sources: legal authorities, quasi-authorities, and commentary. (p. 5) Spoiler Alert to those who teach legal research using vocabulary previously shared by the Kunz book! “Commentary” is the new term of art used here for what are often called “secondary sources” — “writing(s) about the law” rather than documents that comprise legal authority themselves, i.e. “primary sources.” The sample legal research problems seem correct in scope and scale for the book. Law librarians will no doubt enjoy the sample research problem involving possible libel of a librarian who allegedly told a freshman student seeking assistance “If you don’t know how to use the library by now, well it’s too late.” (p. 124) Each chapter also provides a couple “mind expander” questions that are thoughtful, and would be useful to the students who ponder them. “Options” can refer to a variety of issues: print vs. online; if/when to use various types of “commentary” sources, and traditional online CALR (Lexis and Westlaw) vs. Loislaw, CaseMaker, Google, etc. The authors do a good job of incorporating free services, such as Google Scholar and court websites, into the legal research process.
The authors use the FEAT model for effective legal research — focus, efficiency, analysis, and thoroughness, and they correctly point out that legal research is a process — “not so much something you know as something you do.” (pp. 3-4)
The authors mention that they have taught thousands of students over the years, and these teachers and students alike no doubt benefited from having professors involved in the production of a legal research classic for over two decades, and, presumably, very targeted research and writing assignments connected to the legal research text itself. Presumably, most legal research and writing professors do not use assignments so tailored to the PRL text. Nonetheless, The Process of Legal Research (8th edition) is still a very good overview of the legal research process.