June 4, 2012
ATLANTA - Graduating third-year law students, Mayank "Mike" Patel, Brett Williams, and Jeffrey Austin spent the last two years working as graduate research assistants (GRAs) with Professor Leslie Wolf on a two-year research project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The project, conducted in collaboration with Duke University, focuses on Certificates of Confidentiality, a legal tool to provide protection of sensitive, identifiable information collected for research.
Georgia State University College of Law led the legal portion of the study, which included a traditional legal research component and an empirical component – interviews of legal counsel at research institutions across the country. The GRAs have been involved with both project components since fall of 2010 and have developed a wide range of skills during their two years with the project.
In the first year of the project, the students relied primarily on their legal research skills, tracking down every court case involving the confidentiality statutes over the past forty years and examining the legislative history of the statutes. "They were very resourceful," Wolf said. "They went beyond the legal databases law students usually use, learning new tools, and even sending Patel’s sister in Los Angeles to visit a courtroom for documents not available electronically. They also learned how helpful law librarians can be when tackling challenging research questions."
As the project moved into the empirical stage, the students learned new skills. "My friends who work in public health have been impressed that I am learning skills like qualitative coding in law school," said Austin. "But the team has talked about how coding interview transcripts can translate into law practice. We’ve also had an opportunity to write for legal and non-legal audiences."
Importantly, the students also worked closely as a team. Throughout the two years, the team met regularly to discuss their on-going work and provide feedback on it. Wolf pointed out that this was a two-way street, "While I provided guidance on their research, I actively sought my GRAs’ input, including doing a run through of our preliminary data before our first presentation to the NIH."
The team aspect of the research project was driven home when the students traveled in March with Wolf to North Carolina’s Research Triangle area attend a conference sponsored by the Office for Human Research Protections and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Wolf presented findings from the study and participated in a meeting with the Duke collaborators.
"Despite how much we knew about the project from our work, meeting with the whole team for an entire day really opened our eyes to the direction the project was headed and put our work in context with the overall goals and aims," said Patel. Williams added, "It was fascinating to participate in the meeting and see the collaboration at work. We tend to think of writing as solitary, but we saw proof that working together can lead to better work."
The research team is currently working on papers reporting the results of their research, which will be published in legal and non-legal journals.
Stacie P. Kershner, JD
Associate Director, Center for Law, Health & Society