advice you can use — short and to the point — every Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

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All Our Tips

  • Research & Writing

Never write or say this.

It is just a mask. There is no other kind but that worn on the face (except figuratively).

Face mask is as silly as foot shoe or head hat.

As these twenty different senses of mask that are listed in the Oxford English Dictionary will attest:

  • face-covering
  • image of a face worn by an actor
  • representation of a human or animal head
  • grotesque representation of a face worn at carnivals etc.
  • facial expression concealing emotion, giving false impression
  • human face resembling a mask
  • protective covering for the face
  • surgical dressing for the face
  • medical device placed over the mouth and nose
  • gauze or fibre covering for mouth and nose
  • gas mask
  • swimmer or diver’s watertight shield for the eyes
  • face disguised by cosmetics
  • cosmetic preparation for the face
  • likeness of someone’s face in clay or wax, especially from a mould
  • stylised representation of a face
  • face, head or skinned head of a fox or other animal
  • mouth of a dragonfly larva
  • marking on the face of an animal
  • blotchy discoloration on the face of pregnant woman

Please do wear a mask, but refer to it properly.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Technology

With everyone working from home, I have been looking for better tools to collaborate with my team. I recently found one that is super cool – Miro.

Miro enables users to map out a workflow, brainstorm new ideas or develop a business strategy on a shared online whiteboard. To create a board, you can start with a blank canvas or use a template, such as ones for flowcharts, mind maps, or kanban frameworks.

Once in the whiteboard, it is easy to edit by clicking and dragging boxes, arrows or other shapes, or creating your own sketches with a drawing pencil. You can even add “sticky notes” if you want the traditional feel of a mapping/brainstorming exercise.

To collaborate, you simply invite your team to Miro. There is no need to share the whiteboard via Zoom during your meeting.

Being a budget-conscious entrepreneur, I am still using the free version of Miro. Paid versions look to have even more features.

Lesha Van Der Bij (@LVanDerBij) is CEO & Founder of Optimize Legal – keeping law firms and businesses up-to-date on changes to the law.


  • Technology

The Law Society of Saskatchewan has just launched a new series of video tutorials for remote research resources – perfect for a time when more people than ever are working away from their office or usual workspace.

The series has four videos with more on the way. The first batch covers:

The videos are aimed at Law Society members in that province, but will be of interest to legal professionals across the country who have access to these resources through their employer, courthouse library or law society.


  • Research & Writing

One of the challenges of the last few months has been accessing materials that my library does not own. With the majority of libraries being closed, we have not been able to borrow these materials from the usual suspects. 

When looking for government publications, one useful source is the Government of Canada Publications website which includes a catalogue of over 502,000 publications and which provides online access to more than 381,000 government publications.

The website offers an advanced search feature which allows you to limit your search by such criteria as department, language, and publication date. The collection includes PDFs of older publications that have been digitized; for example, the 1930 publication “Poultry house construction, with general and detailed plans” is available for your reading pleasure.

Susannah Tredwell


  • Practice

Erin Cowling’s wonderful interview series, Women Leading in Law, is back up and running after a bit of a break.

In response to the difficult times we’re in, Cowling notes, “I don’t know about you but I need some good news right about now. And I believe there’s nothing better than reading positive stories about women kicking butt in law“.

In her series (at 45 interviews and counting!), Cowling asks women lawyers working in a wide variety of roles and practice areas a standard set of six questions:

  • Tell me a little about your practice or business.
  • Why did you go to law school?
  • How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
  • What is your most significant achievement?  What are you proud of?
  • What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
  • What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?

The responses are fascinating and unexpected and contain excellent advice. Spending some time reading them is almost guaranteed to inspire you!


  • Research & Writing

Coverage, essentially.

You’ll need a little ancient Greek here.

The –demic suffix comes from demos, which means ‘the people’, ‘the community’. Demos is the root of democracy (‘rule by the people’).

The epi- bit comes from the Greek for ‘upon’, ‘at’, ‘close to’. Think of the epicentre of an earthquake.

Pan-, on the other hand, means ‘universal’. Pandemonium is total confusion or chaos; pantheism is the belief that the divine is present everywhere in the universe.

An epidemic is a disease that touches a fairly localised group; a pandemic reaches far beyond the local.

One would therefore say There was an epidemic of meningitis among high-school students in the downtown core, but The world was severely affected by the Spanish flu, AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics.

The earliest use of pandemic appears to be 1666 (a year of plague in London); epidemic goes back further – to 1603 in its current form, to the late fifteenth century as epidemy.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

Microsoft has decided that it will officially join the ranks of those who consider it an error to put a double space after the end of a sentence.

(Although when I recently typed a sample paragraph in Word with the offending two spaces, no red squiggly line appeared; maybe the change has yet to be implemented, or I need to update my version of Word.)  

Double versus single spacing is one of those long-running controversies that get people — not just word nerds — all hot and bothered. There are those who get positively irrational about it, as often happens with things that don’t actually matter (like whether or not to use an Oxford comma, in most circumstances).

The explanation usually given for moving away from double spacing is the fixed (or monospace) nature of typewriter fonts, which no longer applies in the more flexible digital world, although this article from the people at the Chicago Manual of Style suggests that it is a bit more complicated than that.

Whatever the history, the first thing most professional editors will do with the piece you have submitted is to use ‘find and replace’ to reduce end-of-sentence spacing from double to single.

If you insist on keeping two spaces, Microsoft may still allow you to bypass the new default rule (if you can find where to do that in your settings — I can’t seem to), or you could use the hacks in this post.

Better yet, go with the cool kids and use just one space between sentences.

Thanks to John Hightower of Lanier Ford Shaver & Payne PC and Jennifer Prouse of Minden Gross LLP for the resources!

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

Properly, it’s normality.

Just as formal leads to formality and final to finality.

But one does also see normalcy, as in this recent New York Times piece.

You won’t see the word normalcy as much outside the US, however. (And whether one has seen the concept there since 2016 is another question entirely.)

Although normalcy was used as early as 1857, the word really only came into its own in 1920, when Warren G. Harding used a return to normalcy as his campaign slogan in that year’s presidential election. He meant the conditions that had existed before WWI and the Spanish flu pandemic that came in its wake.

Harding was ridiculed by the word nerds of the day, but he won the election handily — and the word gained currency.

Normality has a slight edge in terms of history: the earliest example cited in the OED is 1839. But it’s also close to the post-classical Latin normalitas (‘the state of being governed by rules or norms’), seen as far back as the 11th century.

I’d go with normality (and let’s hope it returns soon).

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

One question that comes up on a regular basis is “why can’t I find a copy of this act on CanLII?” 

One possibility is that the act is an annual statute that only amends another act (or acts), e.g. the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2018, S.B.C. 2018, c. 48. Not all amendment acts appear on CanLII; it depends on the jurisdiction.

If you’re not having any luck finding an act on CanLII, and its citation does not begin with “R.S.” (for Revised Statutes), you will probably want to look at the annual statutes for that jurisdiction on the appropriate Queen’s Printer or legislature’s website.

Note that CanLII does include a number of annual statutes, e.g. Canada (back to 2001), Alberta (back to 1906!), New Brunswick (back to 1974), Quebec (back to 1996) and Saskatchewan (back to 1996).

Susannah Tredwell


  • Research & Writing

Oh, Mary Beard! Everyone’s favourite classicist.

She perceptively notes that old-fashioned correspondence offered subtle gradations in formality, which we haven’t quite got right with electronic mail. Beard finds e-mail inappropriately informal, strangely unpersuasive, often annoying, not conducive to genuine expressions of thanks.

Writing a letter also involved a helpful cooling-off period because you had to make the effort to find a stamp and then post your letter; this gave time for second thoughts about sending it at all.

To save her from those late-night missives sent after one glass too many, Beard wishes her laptop had a function that blocked sending anything after 11 pm, followed up by an ‘Are you sure?’ message in the morning, or a built-in breathalyser.

Like Professor Beard, I tend to dread receiving that message that opens with ‘I hope this e-mail finds you well’.

Not least because it’s usually from someone I don’t know who wants to sell me something.

But mostly because it’s such a hackneyed, insincere and vapid intro.

Really, have you nothing better to offer than this dreadful platitude? Cut to the chase and tell me what you want.

As it turns out, however, it’s not much different from the SVBEV (or SVBEEV) used as as an opener by writers of letters in ancient Rome, which stood for Si vales bene est[ego] valeo (‘If you’re OK, that’s good; I am too’).

Mary asks, are the old clichés the best clichés?

I actually think not — they’re all terrible and to be avoided; but do listen to Professor Beard on the etiquette of e-mail, letter-writing and telegrams: [/play/b098ns34

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)