Legal Research Professor Draws on Transactional Experience

Tiffani Willis
Reference Librarian and Professor Tiffani Willis

When Loyola Law School, Los Angeles Reference Librarian Tiffani Willis designed her new legal research course, she wanted to make it as practical as possible for students interested in transactional and business law. So she thought back to the seven years she spent as a securities and corporate finance lawyer with Sidley Austin LLP, one of the nation’s preeminent commercial law firms.

“I tried to focus on the things I researched when I was a transactional attorney, especially when I was a first- or second-year associate,” says Willis, also a clinical professor. “I want the students to do the kinds of assignments I did when I was a young associate.”

The seven-week course, Legal Research for the Transactional Lawyer, is a counterpart to Loyola’s courses on Advanced Legal Research and Legal Research Fundamentals for the Litigator. Open to all students, it is required of students in the Corporate Law, Entertainment & Media Law and Entrepreneurship Concentrations.

Unlike litigators, transactional lawyers tend to spend less time researching appellate decisions and instead focus on regulations as well as on the facts about a particular party or a particular type of deal. They must figure out how to spot impending problems and help clients steer clear of them, she said.

Therefore, she teaches her students techniques such as how to do due diligence for a deal. That often includes how to research state incorporation records, company bylaws and court dockets for litigation involving a company. This year, Willis intends to broaden the scope of the class to include problems from entertainment law, bankruptcy and perhaps other fields.

“Part of that is knowing what questions to ask,” Willis said. For instance, if a search turns up negative information about a company, should the attorney recommend backing out of a deal or drafting around the problem?

As part of her class, Willis also digs deep into both online practice guides and the original book versions. “If you understand how the books work, then you’ll understand how the online versions work,” she said.

Loyola has been expanding its offerings in non-litigation areas of practice, including the Entrepreneurship Concentration. Last year was the first time the school offered the transactional research class; Willis, with her real-world experience in the area, was the perfect choice to design and teach it.

A Sacramento native, Willis earned her law degree in 2002. She spent four years at Sidley’s New York office and three in Los Angeles before entering a top library and information science program, receiving her master’s degree in 2012. She later interned for the law library at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

As a research librarian, she helps Loyola’s students and professors with research problems ranging from rephrasing a search query to tracking down non-English source materials. She also is the research liaison for the Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review.

“Loyola has been great,” she said. “I love it.”

Not surprisingly, Willis has always been an avid reader. She likes almost every kind of book, she said, except horror and true crime. She especially likes detective stories — another reason she likes research.

“I think research is very much like being a detective,” she said. “You have to look in all these little corners.”

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