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Wednesday, January 13th, 2016 technology  research  practice

A Research Tip

  • Research & Writing

When we’re working with an Act that has had significant amendments passed, but not yet brought into force, I’ll often make a prospective consolidation to help our lawyers advise their clients on forward-looking strategies. Having a prospective consolidation on hand makes work more efficient and it can also reveal new implications for the amendments. I’m going to walk you through how I do this myself and share some lessons I learned along the way.

The method I use, which is described below, makes use of a blackline tool. A blackline tool is an app that compares two similar documents and then highlights any changes. I think the benefit of using a blackline tool as the last step in making a prospective consolidation is that you get to see precisely which words have been amended. Often, amendments are made by repealing and replacing whole sections or sentences as opposed to just changing the few relevant words or phrases. If you run a blackline, you can see where exactly the changes were made. This can reveal the actual intent of an otherwise puzzling amendment.

Shaunna Mireau pointed out the benefits of prospective consolidations in August 2011 here on SLAW Tips. My own experience with prospective consolidations has been in the context of new Acts being significantly amended prior to being brought into force. In BC we had a new Pension Benefits Standards Act passed in 2012, but not brought into force until September 30th, 2015. In the meantime, the 2012 Act was significantly amended in 2014. As a result, between 2014 and September 2015 there was no public consolidation of the new Pension Benefits Standards Act that lawyers could work with that reflected the 2014 amendments.*

Five steps to creating your own prospective consolidation

  1. Get a clean, current Word version of the of the Act being amended. Save it. Then save a copy of it. (This means you will have two copies of it.)
  2. Following the amendment instructions in the amending Act, edit one copy of the existing Act you saved in step 1. Save the prospective consolidation document and the unmodified version of the current Act to the same folder.
  3. Select both document and compare them in whatever app you use to blackline documents. (At our firm we have the Workshare Compare tool handy through the right-click menu.) Make sure that the unmodified version is set as the original or baseline document and the prospective consolidation is set as the new document to compare.
  4. Save a copy of the blackline output. Double check it for clarity and tweak it if need be. This is your finished product.

Tips for making this work well

  • Start with the original Act in single-column native-Word format. By single-column, I mean don’t use the two-column format that bilingual legislation is offered in. By native-Word format, I mean try to start with a Word document or by copying and pasting text from a web page into a Word document. If you convert a PDF to a Word document you’re in for a world of hurt courtesy of all that invisible formatting. (By the way, Alberta’s QP Source Professional, is my go-to for Alberta statutes in Word format.)
  • When the blackline app spits out your finished product, I recommend going back in and tweaking anything that looks off. Sometimes this is as simple as deleting a few rogue periods or paragraph marks. However, in other cases it’s actually quicker to go to your original clean copy of the Act, or the prospective consolidation copy, and tweak the problem areas there before re-running the blackline.
  • Depending on who you think might see your prospective consolidation, I think it’s worth converting the final product to a PDF and adding either a cover page or a watermark that clearly identifies it as an unofficial consolidation generated within the firm.

Bronwyn Guiton (@BronwynMaye)

*I do want to give credit to Quickscribe, who, in Spring 2015, put together their own prospective consolidation of the new BC Pension Benefits Standards Act for users before the BC government brought that Act into force. Quickscribe is an independent business doing awesome things with BC (and some federal) legislation!

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