The (Mis)use of Research Assistants

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

You may also like...

15 Responses

  1. kristine says:

    Having worked as an RA this summer, I suspect that a great deal of trouble could be avoided if all law libraries had a training for RAs. I attended such a training and was introduced to the wonders of JSTOR, FirstSearch, and many other delightful non-legal databases. It helps that my law school is attached to a research university, of course; some law school libraries may not have the same breadth of material available because of a lack of resources.

  2. Bruce Boyden says:

    Inaction inertia. I hesitate to tell you how I found that.

  3. Dave Hoffman says:

    Action inertia is not, I think, the literature that Gladwell was talking about when he said: “Why don’t people work hard when it’s in their best interest to do so?” (What is it, anyway?)

  4. Joe Hodnicki says:

    Would law profs attend research skills workshops if law librarians offered then (or would they just send their RAs)?

  5. Dave Hoffman says:

    Joe, great question. I will admit that TLS has offered advanced research skills workshops for RAs in recent years, and I’ve just sent my RAs (shame on me). OTOH, I don’t think that law librarian workshops are likely to focus on interdiscipinary research, for obvious efficiency reasons.

  6. Bruce Boyden says:

    Judging from my 5-minute Google search, it seems to be the phenomenon of avoiding regret over a missed opportunity by forgoing future opportunities of the same kind.

    Tykocinski, O. E., & Pittman, T. S. (1998). The Consequence of Doing Nothing: Inaction Inertia as Avoidance of Anticipated Counterfactual Regret. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 607-616.

    Tykocinski, O. E., Pittman, T. S., & Tuttle, E. E. (1995). Inaction Inertia: Foregoing Future Benefits as a Result of an Initial Failure to Act. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 793-803.

  7. Dave Hoffman says:

    But, Bruce, I think that for bragging credit, you need to make the link to Gladwell.

  8. Scott Moss says:

    I did a session with a great law librarian here to beef up my social science research skills. It was very helpful, and I took lots of notes, BUT: like most research skills, these new talents will atrophy unless I use them a lot soon. Some but not all of my articles involve social science research, so I’ve resigned myself to havign to bug that too-nice librarian once a year or so for a refresher.

    So I think it’s correct that we law profs are poor at other research, but I think that’s just a subset of a broader phenomenon: no profs are good at research of a type they don’t do regularly.

  9. Scott Moss says:

    I did a session with a great law librarian here to beef up my social science research skills. It was very helpful, and I took lots of notes, BUT: like most research skills, these new talents will atrophy unless I use them a lot soon. Some but not all of my articles involve social science research, so I’ve resigned myself to havign to bug that too-nice librarian once a year or so for a refresher.

    So I think it’s correct that we law profs are poor at other research, but I think that’s just a subset of a broader phenomenon: no profs are good at research of a type they don’t do regularly.

  10. Jeff Yates says:

    You might try looking at Robert Prentice, “Contracts Based Defenses in Securities Fraud Litigation: A Behavioral Analysis” University of Illinois Law Review (2003). In foonote 166, Prentice cites Gladwell’s “The New-Boy Network” New Yorker, May 29, 2000 at 68, quoting University of Michigan psychologist Richard Nisbitt. The article has some interesting insights on anticipated regret generally. A good lead, if perhaps not the final link.

  11. Jim Milles says:

    Regarding Dave’s comment (“I don’t think that law librarian workshops are likely to focus on interdiscipinary research, for obvious efficiency reasons”): this is why I, as a law library director, think law school libraries should start hiring outside of the JD/MLS box. While legal research, and legal research instruction, remain the core of what law school libraries, do, we should have at least one law librarian on staff with a graduate degree in economics or one of the social sciences in lieu of the JD.

  12. Dean C. Rowan says:

    A little perspective here: electronic legal resources are far more “fancy-pants” than most humanities database, and they have been for some time. Lexis and Westlaw are clearly more sophisticated than, say, JSTOR. (Okay, some of those Chadwyck-Healy medieval text facsimile databases are pretty cool.) Anyway, Joe’s question implies the obvious respone: no, professors are not likely to show up for research skills training.

    With respect to Jim’s response to Dave’s comment about interdisciplinary research, I think he misses Dave’s point. Indeed, diversity of expertise on staff can be a good thing for a library, just as it can be on the law school faculty, but I think Dave is getting at the unwieldiness of providing interdisciplinary instruction. Where to start? And then, more urgently, where to end? Perhaps the best way to broach this issue would be for librarians with special non-legal expertise to team teach a course, such as a seminar, with a law professor. Granted, the faculty don’t thereby receive instruction, but the interdisciplinary capabilities of the library are demonstrated to the students.

    Finally, research option 2 is plainly silly. There’s a much easier approach: contact Mr. Gladwell directly. I had a similar query some months ago involving a remark Daniel Dennett had made–about libraries, no less. After a few pointed searches in an appropriate database or two, I just fired off a message to Prof. Dennett. By the end of the day, I had my citation. Research skills involve these kinds of social interactions, which helps to explain why professors are not so motivated to attend “training.” The collegial aspect of academia is itself a valuable research resource.

  13. Dave Hoffman says:

    To respond to several interesting comments.

    First, I think that Bruce and Jeff are still on the wrong track. The new boy network article (link here) is simply Blink: Shorter. It doesn’t get at the problem of why successful, well-incented, folks sometimes put obstacles in the path of their success. No bragging rights so far. (I should add that my research assistant, who is reading this thread, is similarly excluded from the possibility of bragging rights).

    I agree with Dean on what I was trying to say about efficiency and training. Law students have an enormous amount to learn – even in a research assistant training session, devotion to legal resources (which are varied and rich) makes sense from an efficiency point of view.

    As for Dean’s suggestion of contacting Gladwell directly, I should have said that it was our option 3. But option 2 only took about 2 weeks, so we didn’t have to reach out to M.G. Obviously, Dean is right, but the principle is not, I think, scalable.

  14. Amy Wright says:

    I’m a dual-degree law librarian, and I help faculty and research assistants with social science research more frequently than I help them with law-related research these days. My faculty usually comment that, if they delved into these subject areas on a regular basis, they could get the knack of the research, but it’s just not going to happen given their infrequent use of nonlegal databases. I wanted to reassure Scott Moss, who commented that he would have to “bug” the “too-nice librarian” for a refresher on social science research every year. Don’t worry about bugging the librarian for research help! Most of us are thrilled when faculty contact us and ask for research instruction of any kind. It’s our job to make your scholarship as painless as possible, and you shouldn’t hesitate to call on us whenever you (or your RAs) need help.

  15. Rob T. says:

    “It’s our job to make your scholarship as painless as possible, and you shouldn’t hesitate to call on us whenever you (or your RAs) need help.”

    No, Amy, it’s PART of our job, and it is–or should be–a relatively small part of it, at that. Our job also entails helping students with research (students, remember them? The ones who pay for all this?), assisting other patrons at the Reference desk, collection development, as well as other specialized responsibilities (for instance, electronic services, microforms, managing a student R.A. pool, etc.).

    I, for one, am “thrilled” when the faculty respect my limited time and my status as a busy professional colleague.