Unmasking Bias in Casebooks: From Theory to Praxis
Recorded On: 07/18/2022
Casebooks are the cornerstone of American legal education. Indeed, the earliest known casebook, A Selection of Cases on the Law of Contracts (1871), was compiled by Harvard Law School Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell, pioneer of the casebook method. While there has been much discussion of the rising cost of casebooks and whether academic law libraries should acquire them, only recently have law librarians begun to critically examine the information contained inside casebooks.
In her 2021 article “Casebooks, Bias, and Information Literacy—Do Law Librarians Have a Duty?” Kathy Fletcher demonstrates that casebook authors imprint their biases on the materials found in their casebooks through the selection and editing process. While these biases affect the way students understand the law, students are led to believe that they are reading an objective version of case law. Fletcher argues that law librarians have a duty to teach patrons to think critically about the way legal information is presented to them in casebooks. In light of Fletcher’s scholarship, the research and instruction librarians at the Lillian Goldman Law Library revised the case briefing session that they conduct in the JD orientation at Yale Law School to include an example and a discussion of casebook bias. In this program, Kathy Fletcher will present on her research into casebook bias, and Nicholas Mignanelli will demonstrate how he and his colleagues incorporated pedagogical content about casebook bias in their case briefing sessions. Yasmin Sokkar Harker, a leading authority on critical legal information literacy, will serve as moderator.
Recorded at the 2022 AALL Annual Meeting & Conference. Please note the opinions shared during the programs represent the views of the speakers and not of AALL.
Law librarians who work with law students and recent graduates—whether in a law school (law students), law firm (summer and junior associates), or court library (judicial interns and clerks)—and desire a better understanding of how the sources that students learn from shape their understanding of the law
- Participants will be able to identify bias in casebooks and articulate why casebook bias is a problem.
- Participants will learn strategies for conveying information about the dilemma of casebook bias.
- Participants will gain an appreciation for the ways critical legal information literacy improves transparency and patron comprehension.
- Kathy Fletcher, University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law
- Nicholas Mignanelli, Yale Law School
- Yasmin Sokkar Harker, City University of New York School of Law