From personal experience and user testing, I know that law students have little free time. They also spend hours reading dense texts. To help them understand research concepts, and offer a break from text-heavy materials, I designed a set of visually focused handouts illustrating key legal research concepts.
UI Designer: created concept and designed using brand colors and typography.
Content Creator: worked with other reference librarians to craft content.
UI Design & Content Creation
Most law students enter law school with no experience conducting legal research. Legal research involves learning new databases, vocabulary, and concepts. For the most part, these concepts are not hard to master. However, the newness and quantity of information presented to students often leaves them feeling overwhelmed. This can create an unnecessarily steep learning curve.
To help new students become more comfortable with legal research concepts, I selected a few important topics and concepts that come up often and frequently lead to confusion (related chart in parens): which resource should I use (Legal Resource Finder); how do I expand my research (One Good Case Method); what materials must courts follow (Legal Resources Hierarchy); and what are the steps I need to take when conducting legal research (Legal Research Flow).
From the selected topics, I focused on the key aspects of each, confirming and working with other reference librarians throughout the process. To help the concepts feel less intimidating, I made them colorful, full of shapes and smiley faces — things absent from most casebooks. I also opted to limit myself to a single page for each handout. This forced me to cut out unnecessary information and focus on what students needed, and it made each handout quickly understandable.
Below I provide each handout and a description of its purpose. The button at the top of the page links to these resources on the GMU Law Library's website.
Unfortunately, there is no single go-to resource that covers all legal research needs. Westlaw and Lexis are great for finding cases, while ProQuest Legislative Insight is the best place to start if you need a legislative history. So, students need to select a database based on what they are searching for. To help students quickly find the best resource for their needs, this chart (image above) offers some common materials law students need alongside three of the biggest legal databases (Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg). Each database is rated with a face. The "other" column lists smaller, more specialized databases that excel in a few areas where the bigger ones struggle. I worked with three other reference librarians to select the databases to include and the rating each deserved.
Often students are given or find a case (or other resource) that's helpful for the point they want to make. However, the case is usually missing something they need — maybe the facts are much different from those they need to argue from or perhaps the case is from a jurisdiction they can't cite to. In these cases, students have to find additional relevant materials: enter the "one good case method" (explained further in the "overview" of the handout above).
Students frequently have a hard time understanding and remembering which materials the court they are hypothetically appearing before must follow. To help students remember and provide a quick reminder, I created the pyramid shown above. The pyramid portion includes which types of materials fall in the various levels, while the text on the left and right explain the concept and offer additional notes.
While researching, it's easy to get buried in the details. At a glance, this flowchart shows students the big steps they should follow when conducting research. It also answers one of the most common questions new students have: "When should I stop researching?"
While conducting user testing on the law school's main site, I solicited initial reactions to these handouts. The feedback was the most positive of we received during testing. Testers were visibly enthusiastic about the handouts, with some asking where they could access them after testing wrapped and wondering why they were not given them earlier.