NSU Law: Using Advanced Legal Research Techniques to Teach the Art of Negotiation

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In Thomson Reuters’ examination of methods that law schools can use to help their students become more “practice ready,” we identified law school faculty already integrating practice-ready skills into their curriculums as well as legal organizations helping new associates connect theory to practice. In the following series of profiles, we explore how these approaches are shaping law students and law firms.

Upending the myth that legal research providers are too expensive for small law firms is what drove Becka Rich, senior associate director and adjunct professor of law at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU Law), to develop an innovative assignment for second- and third-year students in her Advanced Legal Research Techniques course.

Most of the graduates of NSU Law — located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — go into solo or small firm practices, and students repeatedly told Rich they were warned that online legal research platforms Westlaw and LexisNexis were too expensive to use in practice. To convince them otherwise, she contacted her sale representatives, and explained that she wanted students to discuss pricing for solo or small firm packages with the sales reps. She then made it into an assignment for her students. The assignment required students to go through the process of selecting a legal research subscription to support their own future law practice and learn what options they would have to negotiate around factors like price and content.

“The package they get as students is all-inclusive and priced accordingly,” Rich says. “I wanted them to learn about the typical pricing of these databases for small firms or solo practices,to know what lawyers, in reality, have in practice and what kind of options there are, and to be able to compare the pricing between vendors.”

Less than a cell phone plan

Rich notes that many law students come in after second-year as diehards of one or the other platform because the firms where they’ve been as interns or clerks only use one or neither. “An unexpected side effect of this assignment was that diehard users almost always stopped being diehards,” she says. “Most professors teach one platform, but students need to use both. This forces them to learn the strengths of each of these platforms and to look at what the market offers.”

The exercise even sent some students back to the firm where they were interning or clerking with new understanding of the costs of their research. “Some students said, ‘This would only cost $250 a month,’” Rich laughs. “That’s why the sales reps kept doing it!”

NSU Law’s Becka Rich

The affordability of the platforms surprised students, who often told Rich that they could subscribe to a basic legal research package “for less than I pay for my cell phone!” But they realized it may not include the secondary sources they needed. “We emphasize to students that they’re required to be responsible researchers,” Rich says. “It would be malpractice to go into a courtroom without checking whether everything was good law.”

Everything is negotiable

After observing the assignment in practice, Rich says she noticed there are three ways the assignment made students practice ready: First, it forces students to think about the tools they’ll need in practice that are different than the tools they use in school. Second, it forces them to think about how they research; and third, it makes them more aware of what costs actually are and how to negotiate. “It helps students realize they can negotiate anything,” Rich adds.

“Unfortunately, what happens in law school often is that research becomes an intimidating, scary thing — it’s all about costs and being too hard,” Rich says. “This assignment takes some of the fear out. Just realizing you can call and talk to a rep for help or to get a trial password is a useful lesson.”

The assignment also aligns with NSU Law’s overall mission. “Nova Southeastern University’s College of Law, as a whole, supports experiential education,” Rich explains. “One of NSU’s strengths is the sheer number of experiences students can have that let them see what life is like in practice — the business of lawyering — that they wouldn’t otherwise get access to.”

For profiles of technology innovators in the legal education field, click here!