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  • Research & Writing

On a recent Canada Day, someone on LinkedIn referred to O’Canada, which is clearly wrong. (O’ is confined to Irish surnames, where it is the anglicised version of the Gaelic Ó or Ua, meaning ‘descendant of’; M(a)c [or M’], as for the Scots, means ‘son of’).

But is it O Canada, Oh! Canada or what?

O, not followed by punctuation and closely linked in sense to what follows, is what’s called a vocative – and is correct in things like national anthems or hymns.

Oh is usually followed by punctuation and is more like a stand-alone exclamation tacked on to the rest: Oh, hell! Oh! what a scoundrel! Oh, no you don’t!

Usage of O and Oh has not always been consistent, however (think back to the revue Oh! Calcutta! if you’re old enough).

But O’Canada has never been OK.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Practice

Administrator’s note: thanks to Erin Cowling for this week’s tip.

We all know that taking a real vacation makes us less stressed, more focused, and in return, better lawyers, better employees, and better bosses. Even though I love my job, I still need a break from it. I need to unplug and unwind. I need to think about something other than the law. When I do, I return to my practice with more energy and commitment.

When I worked for someone else, I always took all my allotted vacation. I felt I was working hard and I rightly deserved the time off. Now that I have my own practice and business and can, in theory, take as much vacation time that I want, I take even less. I need to change that.

So, here is what I have learned, and what may help to ensure that you and I take our important vacations:

  1. Book the vacation time into your calendar in advance. Block off your 2020 vacation days now. Not nailing down the time off makes it easier to push back that much needed break.
  2. Take at least two weeks off. For me, one week is not enough to get the “law” out of my system and to unwind.
  3. Plan financially, especially for those of us who are sole practitioners or have our own businesses. If we don’t work, we don’t get paid. Factor your vacation time into your financial plan for the year. (In other words, don’t let money be an excuse to not take time off).
  4. Have someone cover your practice so you aren’t working on your vacation.
  5. Fiercely protect your time. Practice saying “No”. Say “No” to that meeting they want to schedule on your day off. Say “No” to that “quick” conference call while you are on vacation. And then provide an alternative date for when you are back in the office, relaxed and ready to work!

The bottom line: We need to give ourselves permission to take a break and forget about law for a while. We will be better lawyers if we do. Don’t make the same mistake I did.

[This tip was adapted with permission from Erin Cowling’s post, “My Biggest Mistake this Year…“]


  • Research & Writing

Odds are, the only way you used this word before you went to law school was to describe physical absence: I was absent from school that day because I had the flu.

Then, all of a sudden, in 1L you started saying things like absent evidence to the contrary because it made you sound all, like, lawyer-y.

Please revert to your pre-law ways. Without or even in the absence of will strike your non-lawyer readers as normal.

And that’s a good thing.

In a position …
You aren’t in a position to do X, Y, or Z?

Just say I can’t do X, Y or Z, which is more direct and avoids suggestions of awkward body poses.

This is an example of three syllables where one or two would suffice: show, say, suggest are all shorter – and actually clearer.

The lawyer said (pompously): Upon my return to the office …

 Please, just When I return or On my return. Or even When I get back.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Practice

Today’s practice tip is to get more mileage from your writing with CanLII Connects.

If you write commentary on caselaw for a personal or firm blog, client publications, or any other publication, you can upload it to CanLII Connects, where it can be discovered by anyone who searches for that particular case, both on CanLII Connects AND on

CanLII cases that have corresponding CanLII Connects commentary will display this info just under the case name:

Not only is CanLII Connects commentary discoverable via individual cases, the full-text is integrated in search results within CanLII, too. Per the recent announcement on the CanLII Blog:

“When you conduct a search on CanLII, you are now able to get results of content from CanLII Connects. For example, doing a document search for “promise doctrine” will provide results that link to CanLII Connects entries. Clicking on the title of the entry will direct you to the full document on CanLII Connects.”

Setting up a profile and adding your legal commentary to CanLII Connects is a simple way to increase your online footprint and the reach of your work.


  • Research & Writing

Based on a discussion on the CALL listserv – many thanks to Martha Murphy for all the information.

One of the services typically offered by law libraries is legislative tracking. Examples of this service include tracking a bill from First Reading to Royal Assent (and beyond) and alerting users to proposed changes to an existing piece of legislation. 

Depending on how much legislation they need to track, librarians can either check the source (e.g. LEGISinfo or legislative website) on a regular basis or they can set up an alert for any legislative changes. The federal government and some provinces (such as Nova Scotia and Quebec) offer RSS feeds that can be used to track legislation. CanLII also has an RSS feed.

Recently a question came up on the Canadian Association of Law Libraries listserv as to what tools people used. The following is a list of resources to track Canadian legislation that were suggested by CALL-ACBD members:

  • Codify Legal Publishing allows users to set up alerts, with the first three feeds being free 
  • GovtMonitor allows users to track and monitor federal and provincial (Ontario and Alberta) legislation, regulations, Hansards etc.
  • LexisNexis’s Canadian Legislative Pulse allows users to monitor the progress of bills as well as notifying them of any proposed changes to legislation
  • LexBox includes an add-on for free CanLII alerts
  • Optimize Employment and Optimize Pensions offer legislative tracking
  • Quickscribe allows users to set alerts for any changes to BC Statutes and Regulations; users can also set up keyword alerts for BC Hansard ad Orders in Council 
  • Thomson Reuters’ Canada Statute Service
  • WestlawNext’s Legislative Watch “allows you to track individual bills or bills relating to specific statutes for deeper, more efficient research.” 
  • WestlawNext Canada and Lexis Advance Quicklaw allows users to set up alerts

Susannah Tredwell


  • Practice

September always seems to be a time when Canadians get more serious about work. Well, we have a short summer and we need to make the most of it, right?

One simple tip that can take some of sting out of leaving vacations behind and getting back to the daily grind is to get into the habit of setting small practice development goals. Large or small, every goal adds value. Starting small allows you the opportunity to see results quickly, sparking the motivation to continue. Starting small also helps to manage procrastination, by reducing larger projects into bite size chunks.

Give some thought to some of the bigger practice development challenges you’ve been facing over recent years. Make a list of some possible actions you can take to establish progress and pick something from the list. 

To get your imagination going, here is a running list of examples:

  • Attend a live event with a professional association.
  • Change your headshot.
  • Add a section to your LinkedIn profile.
  • Reach out to your network with some news.
  • Update your biography.
  • Make contact with colleagues you haven’t heard from in a while.
  • Speak with a consultant to learn more about getting started with a special project.
  • Test a new marketing idea.  
  • Plan an event…

So, what’s your first small goal going to be?

For more reading related to practice development, see these past articles on SlawTips and Slaw:

Also, see the following related articles by Sandra Bekhor, Practice Development Consultant:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto


  • Research & Writing

We’ve covered a(n) historical already: an before an H word is, essentially, a historical holdover we can do without; but do it if it makes you feel better.

We have, however, safely abandoned the an that used to go before words like eulogy, one, unique and unit.

A reader has asked a related question about abbreviations. Is it an LLB or a LLB? A LCBO outlet or an LCBO outlet?

I think the classical rule was to use whichever form of the indefinite article would be appropriate if the abbreviation were spelled out in full: a LLP for a limited liability partnership..

In speech, however, people naturally began to say things like an MP – and you can do this in writing too, especially where the abbreviated form is more commonly used than the full version.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Practice

What does it mean when a statute or regulation says that there must be “x days between” two actions? What about “at least x days between” two actions? In keeping with the relative, wibbly-wobbly nature of time itself, the answer sometimes depends on where you are.

Federally, ss. 26-30 of the Interpretation Act set out rules for computing time in Federal legislation, such as how a time limit that expires on a holiday is automatically extended to the following day (s. 26); or how one month after March 30th is April 30th, while one month after March 31st is… also April 30th (s. 28).

When timelines are described in Provincial statutes or regulations, it is the equivalent Provincial interpretation legislation that governs. In Ontario, for example, these rules are set out in the Legislation Act, while British Columbia and Alberta include these provisions in their respective Interpretation Acts.

Confusingly, these rules are not always equivalent across jurisdictions. For example, the meaning of “at least x days” between two events is not the same in every province. Generally, when a legislative instrument refers to “x days” between two events, it is calculated by excluding the first day and including the last day. So, counting from a Monday, “four days between” means the period ends on the Friday (excluding the Monday but including the Friday). But in many jurisdictions, a reference that specifies “at least x days”, or “x clear days” between two events means that both the first and last days are excluded. So, counting from the same Monday, “at least four days between” means the period ends on the Saturday, not the Friday. This is the case Federally, as well as in British Columbia and Alberta, as examples (see ss. 27, 25.2, and 22(3) of their respective Interpretation Acts).

Ontario, however, doesn’t follow this distinction. Section 89(3) of the Ontario Legislation Act explicitly states that a reference to a period of time between two events includes the last day, “even if the reference is to ‘at least’ or ‘not less than’ a number of days”. So, counting from the Monday, “at least four days between” means the period ends on the Saturday for Federal legislation, but on the Friday for Ontario provincial legislation.

When computing a timeline prescribed by statute or regulation, and diarizing your own corresponding deadlines, it’s a good idea to make reference to the applicable interpretation legislation, and keep in mind that time, when it comes to legislative provisions, is very much relative.

Shawn Erker (@ShawnErker) is Legal Writer & Content Manager at LAWPRO.


  • Research & Writing

Remanded back
I heard this on the CBC, and I’m hoping it hasn’t made its way into criminal lawyers’ writing: The suspect was remanded back into custody.

The re­- prefix means ‘back’, so it is just remanded (and usually in custody, sometimes to, but not into).

Similarly, not refer back – just refer.

Ditto revert etc.

The reason why
Lord Tennyson may be to blame for this one (or C.V. Wedgwood): ‘Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or to die’ (The Charge of the Light Brigade).

It’s a pretty awful poem, but it’s worse to say The reason why the defendant did this is…; it’s just The reason the defendant did this is…

And please, never the reason is because or, worse, the reason why is because (the latter something also heard on the CBC).

The reason is that … can work, however.

Still remain
If something remains, it’s still there – so still is a tautology.

Which is to say, unnecessary.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

If you are unfamiliar with this writer, head to the nearest independent bookstore (Ben McNally would be an excellent choice in Toronto) and buy her unusual and compelling novels Speedboat (1976) and Pitch Dark (1983), both recently reissued under the New York Review of Books imprint.

What have they got to do with legal writing?

After completing her doctorate at the Sorbonne, Adler received a JD from Yale but never practised law.

Her training in law (and linguistics) must have prompted this perceptive observation of a lawyerly or that is more conjunctive than disjunctive: ‘And I’ve found, I think, the strongest “or” in language anywhere. It’s the lawyers’ phrase: as he then well knew or should have known. The strongest or.’

And she decries the overuse/misuse of literally and presently in a passage on the ‘assault mode’ of cinema reviewers:

‘“Literally,” in every single case, meant figuratively; that is, not literally. This film will literally grab you by the throat. This book will literally knock you out of your chair. “Presently” always meant not soon but now.’

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)