A new era: integrating today's "next gen" research tools Ravel and Casetext in the law school classroom.

Author:Lee, Katrina June
  1. INTRODUCTION II. DEFINING NEXT GEN III. PEDAGOGY AND THE LATEST WAVE OF ELECTRONIC RESEARCH TOOLS A. Calls for a More Practice-Focused Legal Education, and an Emphasis on Teaching Metacognitive Skills B. The Goals of a Contemporary First-Year Legal Research Curriculum 1. Information Literacy 2. Ethical Use of Technology 3. Varied Learning Styles IV. PEDAGOGY AND CASETEXT AND RAVEL, TWO OF THE NEW "NEXT GEN" RESEARCH TOOLS A. Casetext: Resembling a Wikipedia for Case Law B. Ravel: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words ... Or Research Results C. Legal Skills Pedagogy 1. Helping Students Become "Practice-Ready" 2. Helping Students Develop Metacognitive Skills and Addressing Students' Varied Learning Styles 3. Enhancing the Teaching of Information Literacy: Strategy, Context, and Source Evaluation V. TEACHING NEXT GEN RESEARCH TOOLS: A TEACHING AND ASSESSMENT PILOT MODULE, AND IDEAS FOR MOVING FORWARD A. A Pilot Attempt at Teaching Next Gen Research Tools B. Takeaways and Ideas for Moving Forward with Teaching "Next Gen" Research Tools VI. CONCLUSION I. INTRODUCTION

    The landscape of legal research tools is changing ... again. In the not so distant past, law professors brought new research tools like WestlawNext, Lexis Advance, and Google Scholar into their classrooms. (1) Now, in a technological blink of the eye, law professors must grapple with how to integrate the latest next generation ("next gen") research tools, including Ravel (2) and Casetext, (3,4) in their classrooms. Should law professors teach these next gen research tools as part of the skills curriculum? If so, how?

    In this article, we contend that law professors (5) should integrate the new next gen research tools into the law school skills curriculum, and we propose a set of teaching ideas for doing so without sacrificing precious class time. Making the latest next gen research tools a part of the skills classroom agenda advances current pedagogical goals: teaching law students information literacy (e.g., research strategy, context, and source evaluation); (6) teaching metacognitive skills; (7) preparing students for law practice; (8) and exploring professionalism and ethics issues. (9) In Part II, we define "next gen" for purposes of this article. In Part III, we provide an overview of the pedagogical goals that form the major focus of recent literature about teaching legal skills. In Part IV, we give an overview of the newest next gen tools Ravel and Casetext and discuss how teaching these tools furthers those pedagogical goals. In Part V, we describe how, in our teaching and assessment pilot in a legal writing classroom, we introduced first-year law students to these tools. We provide post-exercise comments from students and offer ideas regarding how these tools may be integrated into future legal writing courses. In this article, the first to explore at length the teaching of the newest next gen research tools in the law school classroom, we aim to demonstrate that these tools provide an intriguing and exciting possibility for achieving the pedagogical goals of legal skills classrooms.


    By next generation, or next gen, research tools, we refer to an emerging group of legal research tools that include Ravel and Casetext. Introduced very recently, (10) these tools represent a fundamental alteration in how legal research is presented online. They move far beyond merely providing a free alternative to subscription databases. (11) Westlaw and Lexis have evolved their self-described next generation platforms in the past five years, (12) and indisputably, WestlawNext and Lexis Advance introduced some innovation beyond adopting the Google-type search box. (13) The new tools include, for example, useful graphic result charts that graph the fate of a piece of litigation throughout our court system. (14) A student pulling up a case in Lexis can use Shepard's Graphical, a tool that vaguely resembles a family tree, to see how the case has traveled through the appellate courts and where it reached final determination. (15)

    Though these newer versions of conventional online legal research tools introduced features resembling the next gen tools themselves, the newer tools' primary functions addressed a refinement of how lawyers search rather than how they understand or visualize legal research results. (16) At least a dozen new next gen legal research tools further pushing forward the evolution of legal research are in development. (17) Two in particular--Casetext (18) and Ravel (19)--have gained widespread attention from law and technology media groups. (20) Described in greater detail in Part IV below, these two tools are in advanced beta (21) development. Although both databases are limited in scope, (22) the technology demonstrated by these tools has the potential to usher in a permanent change in online legal information databases. Accordingly, the authors chose Casetext and Ravel for their next gen research teaching pilot in the spring of 2014. (23) We turn now to the pedagogical goals that informed our decision to initiate the teaching pilot.


    Both legal research and legal education seem to be in a state of perpetual evolution. As research tools change, related pedagogical goals often do as well. In this Part, we will outline some of the changes in legal research tools and then explain how these changes have influenced pedagogy.

    Law professors and legal researchers have responded to a sea change in electronic legal research in the past twenty years. Lexis and Westlaw terminals debuted in the 1970s, (24) but it was not until 1990 that students could access these databases from any computer. (25) During the 1990s, electronic legal research began to take hold in the legal writing classroom. (26) LexisNexis (purchased in the 1994 by Reed Elsevier (27)) and West Publishing (purchased in the 1996 by Thomson Reuters (28)) have dominated as legal research behemoths for many years. (29) For a price, they both provided searchable electronic research databases (LexisNexis and Westlaw). (30) The format and layout of these databases reflected for the most part the static, formal organizational system used in LexisNexis and West's print resources. For example, West replicated its famous key number system in Westlaw's case database, tagging each case with the pertinent key numbers. (31) In other words, the electronic organizational system essentially mirrored the print organizational system of the particular vendor. (32)

    From the mid-1990s through 2010, the legal research world changed dramatically. New research tools sprang up, (33) including Google, (34) Google Scholar, (35) and FindLaw. (36) Government agency, court, and on-profit websites made statutes and regulations available. (37) The new tools were often free and publicly available. (38) Presentation to the user was streamlined. Less structure appeared on the screen, and any organizational system was not readily visible to the user. Some of these research tools even began to incorporate a Web 2.0 mindset; for example, Cornell University developed Wex, a legal encyclopedia and dictionary with user-generated content. (39)

    In short, these tools disrupted the status quo of the legal research world and led to much reflection and to new ideas about teaching legal research. (40) Thus, today, law school professors have the luxury of the extensive legal research and writing pedagogy scholarship developed over the past decade surrounding the teaching of Google and other new search tools. (41) A concern emerged: while these new tools made research superficially quicker and easier, students were not necessarily becoming better researchers and perhaps were even becoming poorer researchers. (42) Although students enter law school with experience using free online sources--perhaps most notably Google--legal employers still voice frustration that these students enter the workplaces with inadequate research skills. (43) So, while millennial students are very familiar with using the Internet for all kinds of activities, the effective use of online legal research tools requires instruction tailored to the nature of these new tools.

    1. Calls for a More Practice-Focused Legal Education, and an Emphasis on Teaching Metacognitive Skills

      While legal research tools evolved, legal educators were called on to develop and engage in best practices to prepare students for legal practice. Experiential learning and practical skills acquisition were emphasized in various reports, perhaps most prominently in the Carnegie Report. (44) The Carnegie and MacCrate Reports both emphasized the need for legal education to embrace a wide range of lawyering skills. (45)

      Law school professors answered this call. They produced pedagogical scholarship (46) devoted to learning theory. Specifically, legal scholars focused on the concept of metacognition, i.e., a person's self-monitoring of his own cognitive processes. (47) They advocated for developing strategies to help students become self-regulated learners, (48) especially with respect to legal research. As discussed in the following Part, teaching legal research could not merely be a linear exercise of showing students how to click on A to get to B. Practical considerations demand more. The research tools students use in law school may not be available in their legal workplaces, whether for cost reasons or because the resources have changed dramatically or disappeared. Self-regulated learning will help students apply their research skills in this changing environment. To equip the student with the metacognitive and practice-based skills needed for a successful legal career, law teachers needed to be nimble and focus on a host of interrelated dynamic pedagogical goals.

    2. The Goals of a Contemporary First-Year Legal Research Curriculum

      1. Information Literacy

        Scholars addressing the prior wave of electronic...

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