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It is axiomatic in legal research pedagogy that law schools should teach students how to conduct cost-effective legal research. To do that, we need to teach students to consider the amount of time and money their research requires, how paid legal research platforms like Westlaw and Lexis charge for their services, and how to research in an efficient and cost-sensitive way. But we shouldn’t do those things. Or at least, we shouldn’t do them at first. Instead, we should tell students not to worry about the costs of legal research during their first year of law school—with the possible exception of preparing them for summer employment at the end of the year. And even then, our instruction should be limited. Why wouldn’t we want to teach students to be aware of the high costs of Lexis and Westlaw? Why wouldn’t we want students to think about how much time they ought to spend tracking down and fully exploring every possible legal wrinkle their client’s facts might implicate? We do—eventually. There is little question that, as future attorneys, students need to know how to conduct cost-effective research. But we undermine their ability to learn how to conduct research at all if we ask them to think about costs—in money and in time—too early. Students undoubtedly need to learn to conduct cost effective legal research at some point. The challenge is to determine that point and then instruct them accordingly. And that is a significant challenge since students may not be ready to focus on the costs of legal research for most or all of their first year.


This article originally appeared in Perspectives: Teaching Legal Research and Writing, published by Thomson Reuters. For more information please visit