2011 Paralegal Studies Grad Uses Research Skills to Help Field Museum

Lee Price at the Field Museum

Lee Price at the Field Museum

Lee Price certainly didn’t enroll in Roosevelt’s paralegal certificate program to connect with Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History (FMNH). Many years away from her bachelor’s in biology and working in an immigration law office, she was more focused on expanding her career options in the legal field. But then one thing led to another…
During the program Lee discovered that in addition to her love for the natural world, she had a strong interest in Legal Research and Legal Writing.” “I might be a nerd,” she says, “but finding a case on point is a thrill!” Her two interests came together when Lee, a member of the national paralegal honor society LEX, attended the 2011 Roosevelt honors ceremony. She introduced herself to one of the presenters, Julian Kerbis Peterhans, PhD, Professor of Natural Science, and a curator at FMNH. “I’d always wanted to be involved with a natural history museum,” says Lee, “and I thought maybe this was my chance.”
When Professor Kerbis asked Lee what skills she had to contribute to the Field, she was so far away from her biology days she had to think for a minute. Then she remembered Legal Research and the answer became obvious. “I can track down information,” she said.
Today Lee finds information that helps Prof. Kerbis publish his research: she confirms the accuracy of existing reports about the habits of creatures in far-flung places. Just as in legal research, this is a matter of locating sources, and it presents its challenges. “Many of the relevant papers date from the early 1900s and are difficult to find. Others are behind a journal pay wall or under copyright protection,” Lee explains.
To get access to them, she can consult specialized data bases that have some of the older publications digitized; look for scanned copies posted on university course web sites; search the electronic collections of other natural history museums; and look in various other places. As a result, she faces a question every Legal Research student is familiar with: “Where should I begin?” “Sometimes I just start with the title of the article on Google; sometimes I go straight to a data base; and sometimes I do a search through the Field Museum Library’s web site,” says Lee. She notes that just as in Legal Research, key words are crucial. She stresses that there’s no formula: the process is as much an art as a science.
Most of the time Lee finds that a recently-published paper accurately reports the original source. “But sometimes you find conflicting accounts of how an opossum or a rat behaves,” she says. “An expedition to the Belgian Congo in 1913 reports one thing; a more sophisticated study with improved methodology in 1983 another.” Then she drafts a description that includes all relevant previous opinions, another parallel with legal research.
If Lee was surprised to find herself at the Field Museum as a result of the program, she is less so that the certificate has contributed to her career development, as she originally intended. She uses her combined science-legal background to work on immigration cases for researchers who want to come to the U.S. “I am fascinated by what they do and enjoy learning about it,” she says. “I like putting my skills to work for them and for the Field Museum – it’s my own small contribution to science.”