Strategic Librarian

Using strategy to develop the law firm library.

Research Training, Mentoring, and Networking Best Practices in using Print and Electronic Resources

As I discussed in my last post, ABA 2010 Legal Technology Survey – v.5 Online Research,  moving new associates from the research habits they developed in law school, to those they need in the real world is a daunting task.  Some would say it is impossible.  Yet, with every new class of lawyers, we, as librarians attempt to do just that. 

We all have known (or know) the new associates that habitually attend what training they can fit into their schedule; call with questions, or yes, even come to the library with those questions; spend time talking to other lawyers about their research; don’t waste their or their client’s time and money on questions they can’t answer;  and generally, take every opportunity to be better legal researchers.  These are the born researchers.  We love them.  We like to see them succeed as associates or become partners or general counsels. 

We more often have known those associates who attend the required training, spend most, if not all, of their research time online, and call or come to the library for help after the hours of online research didn’t produce the results they needed.   We may not feel the same affection for these associates, but we want them to be successful as well.

They are a tough crowd that may never be good researchers without help.  So, how do we reach them?  Especially, how do we help them understand how to do research using the right resources at the right time?  If we apply these questions to our efforts to teach associates how to combine the use of print and electronic resources, the answers may rest on research training, mentoring and networking.

Some best practices to follow:


  • Create a training session for the combined use of print and electronic resources.
    • Include the training along with other firm sponsored training/education required for new associates.  The endorsement by the firm, by including this training in what they are already doing, will go a long way in convincing the associates that this is serious business.
    • Ask partners to participate in explaining why the editorial analysis including digests and treatises (whether it be used in print or online) is so important.  Their participation and endorsement of good research habits will also resound with the associates. 
    • Consider doing a re-enactment of a partner and librarian working together on a research project.  My most memorable experience as a researcher was doing the online part of the research a lawyer was working on back in the 90’s.  He would browse through the digests and find key numbers for me to search on.  I would run the key number search and give him a list of cases.  He would use the reporters to read the cases (now he would probably ask for the printed case opinions) and come back to me with more key numbers or requests to KeyCite (we were a West shop at the time).  You wouldn’t want to take it to that extreme but you could demonstrate using the appropriate print materials with the online resources for a research project.
    • Provide opportunities for the associates to participate in the training session – one wise librarian told me that she was using games to garner associate interest.  Afterall, they are the gaming generation.
  • After the firm sponsored session:
    • Ask your online fee based vendor to teach the associates how to use their online service as a digest.


  • Assign research mentors to each associate.  We assigned librarians to touch base with associates on a regular basis to do additional training on subject based services and to create a relationship that allowed the associates to start learning the value of engaging the library staff in their research. 
  • Create a training program for the librarian research mentors to ensure they understand their role and know how to provide mentoring in this instance.
  • Create documentation with procedures & checklists for the tasks each librarian mentor must complete.
  • Conduct regular mentor meetings to keep the staff engaged and the program moving forward.  These don’t have to be burdensome time wise.  Schedule them as your firm’s time constraints allow.
  •  Ask the firm to consider assigning senior associates or partners as research mentors to new attorneys.  If a mentorship program already exists, as the firm to consider part of that mentorship include research.
  • Work with senior associates and/or partners to develop and conduct the same training, documentation, and meetings.


  • Host regular brainstorming sessions where associates can get together to network and share their research issues while sharing suggestions on how to approach the problem.  Before starting any networking sessions, train librarians in their role as facilitators rather than participants.
  • Consider building a research wiki that would be available to associates only, with the exception of librarian moderators who would respond to questions and post tips.  This would be a wiki that would allow the associates to network with each other by:
    • Asking for assistance when they need it
    • Posting how they conducted a particular research project
    • Contributing research tips 

These are some practices that are already in place in firms or new and ideas I think would work (I haven’t seen or done what I suggest in the networking section of this post.)  I would love to hear other practices that you are engaged in or ideas you think might be worth trying.