September/October 2008 issue
Chief Justice Roberts Cites Importance of
Traditional Legal Research Skills
by Melissa Miller, Branch Librarian, Des Moines
On Thursday, October 2, 2008, approximately
2,500 people gathered at the Drake Knapp
Center in Des Moines, Iowa, to hear U.S.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
deliver the 11th annual Dwight D. Opperman
Lecture in Constitutional Law.
Robert's lecture stressed the
importance of using traditional
legal research skills in addition
to online legal research tools.
Roberts began his lecture by
describing the major renovation
that is occurring at the Supreme
Court Building, the first
comprehensive renovation since the building
opened in 1935. Roberts noted that among the
reasons for the renovation is the need to keep up
with changes in technology, including changes in
the areas of legal research and analysis.
He then traced the history of information
resources in the law from ancient Greece and
Rome, to the invention of the printing press in
1439, to the opening of the Library of Congress
in the early 1800's, and to the emergence of
computer-assisted and web-based research.
Roberts noted that today's online search tools are
powerful but that they can be misused and have
limitations. He warned against blind reliance on
research that focuses merely on words and not on
concepts. "Lawyers run the risk that word
searches will uncover reams of marginally
relevant precedent, superficially on-point,
distracting lawyers from engaging in critical
analysis or structuring of the underlying legal
Roberts continued to say, “There is, I believe, a
lot of value in thinking outside the box, but the
key word is thinking… You cannot think
effectively outside the box if you don't know
where the box is."
To listen to Chief Justice Roberts' lecture, click
on the audio link on this Radio of Iowa web