Legal Research “Demystified” at MLA Pre-conference in Ocean City

By Sara Witman
Research Librarian
Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander

On May 4, four LLAM members presented the basics of “Researching Law Like Lawyers” to a group of around 20 in-person academic and public librarians – as well as additional virtual participants – at the pre-conference portion of “Library Heaven 2011,” the Maryland Library Association and Delaware Library Association’s joint annual meeting in Ocean City, Maryland.

The pouring rain did not appear to deter attendance in the full room of the public library across the street from the Clarion Hotel. Speaking at the program were Joanie Bellistri of the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library; Susan Herrick of the Thurgood Marshall Law Library at the University of Maryland School of Law; Catherine McGuire of the Maryland State Law Library; and myself, Sara Witman from the law firm, Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander.

The full program title was “Demystifying Legal Research: Researching Law Like Lawyers,” and the four-part presentation covered the basics of most aspects of legal research in just under three hours.

By “demystifying,” the presenters hoped to make legal research clear and simple for librarians who may not do it every day. Since academic and public librarians often field legal research questions at a reference desk, the presentation was designed to provide these librarians with a background of relevant legal authorities and the legal research process.  The program was worth three contact hours of continuing education in Maryland.

Joanie first walked the attendees through the branches of government and court systems in both Maryland and Delaware.  She then described relevant secondary sources such as treatises and articles, and discussed how they are used in legal research and how to find them.

Catherine then moved on to statutory law.  She explained the Federal and Maryland legislative systems, how bills become laws, and how to conduct statutory research using both free and not-so-free sources.

The next part of the presentation was administrative law. Although this is often a daunting subject, Susan effortlessly provided a thorough overview of what regulations are, how they are promulgated, and where to find information about regulations online.

As the final portion of the program, I quickly explained the basics of case law.  I described what cases were and how to find them online, either from a free or paid source.

Interestingly, the presentation took place both on-site and online. Virtual participants watched the presentation on the internet and were given polls and questions to stay involved.  This was the first time the presenters had done a joint in-person/virtual presentation, and it was very successful.