A tip of the hat to SD Rural Lawyer for pointing out Susan G. Fowler’s study: “Results of Participant Observation in the Fifth Judicial District,”
In this 2007, Ms. Fowler takes a look at the research needs of the average rural Kansas lawyer and finds that because the rural lawyer is a generalist, their research needs tend to be limited to the basics (case-law updates, statutory changes, access to state resources) and they do not spend a great deal of time or money on specialized research materials or access to expert opinions. All well and good if you are planning on how best to restore a rural law library so that it will best serve it’s clientele.
What interested me were Ms. Fowler’s observations on the information processing skill and daily activities of the rural lawyer (not that I participated in the study, seeing one’s day reduced to frequency counts by an outside observer is something of an out-of-body experience – the initial reaction of “it can’t be” is quickly followed by “now that I think about it…”). So, for those of you who have any doubts about the adrenaline-packed, action-filled, exciting life of the rural lawyer, you are absolutely right – the top 5 things rural lawyers do are:
- Talk on the phone (communication reduces surprises)
- Use a some form of technology to obtain or transfer legal information (the adaptive generalist is always relearning)
- Prep for court (there is a marked preference to settle out of court, but you never know…)
- work on a case
- build relationships (rural lawyers practice in small ponds – adversarial relationships are left at the courthouse door – so building professional/personal ties to the rural bar and to the community brings in business and establishes credibility)
Ms. Fowler also observed that rural lawyers are information power-users (constantly assessing information as they learn and relearn) and hard core multitaskers – though rural lawyers tend to be “time slicers” rather than “parallel processors” when it comes to multitasking; preferring to quickly switch between tasks (spending a few minutes on one before moving to the next) in a round-robin fashion. This form of multi-tasking seems to be facilitated by the rural lawyer’s preference for print rather than digital resources.
So there you have it – a brief look at the life of the rural lawyer through the eyes of the rural law librarian.