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All Our Tips

  • Practice

When I joined the law firm as a mid-level associate, the managing partner shook my hand and welcomed me. “We’re happy to have you”, he said. “I’m happy to be here”, I said, and asked, “where are my files?” “In your office. You have one hundred to start with.” I walked with excitement and, admittedly, not a little fear and trembling, into my office, fired up my computer, and thanked my lucky stars for joining a paperless firm. Then I clicked on each file from A to Z. Where to start? What to do? Didn’t every file need tasks doing right now?

I froze a bit and thought I should surf the web. That would really do the trick. The files run themselves, you know. Snapping back to real-life, I took a sip of coffee and reviewed every file, drafted up one-page summaries of each, and set out the to-dos for every file. Then I really did freeze. Same question. Where do I start? Best to procrastinate and get to know my fellow colleagues. I marched over and chatted with the lawyer next door – literally in the next office – and we talked about everything but files. Before I left, I casually asked, “By the way, how do you manage your tasks? I’ve got hundreds of tasks for all these files and don’t know what’s the best way to start.” And, as casually as I asked, casually came advice that changed my practice forever.

“Oh, that one’s easy. Book an appointment for every task. And book separate appointments for all your files to review them. Thirty minutes a file, three months between reviews, then however long you think is appropriate.”

I dutifully did so. And I have rarely been surprised by what needs to be done, or has(n’t) been done on a file since. So there it is. There are many ways to manage your tasks, from daily to-do lists to ongoing master to-do lists. This one, slightly novel, worked for me. Make your to-dos appointments in your calendar. When the time comes, do the task. If you can’t get around to it that day, book another appointment. Yes, this fills up your calendar, but the reward is an effective and free task-management system.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

  • Research & Writing

One of the (many) confusing things about historical legislative research is the fact that revised statutes don’t necessarily come into force in the year of their citation. For example R.S.C. 1985, which consolidates the text of the statutes in force on December 31, 1984, came into force almost four years later on December 12, 1988. Any changes made after December 31, 1984 to Canadian statutes were published in the supplements to R.S.C. 1985.

Courthouse Libraries BC has put together a list of the in force dates for the revised statutes of the following jurisdictions:

R.S.A. 2000, which is not listed in the Courthouse Libraries BC’s Knowledge Base, came into force on January 1, 2002.

Susannah Tredwell

 

  • Research & Writing

The question of –able or –ible a few weeks ago got me thinking of other spelling conundrums. Is a course of action inadvisable or unadvisable?

Either, actually – but usage is changing and now seems to favour inadvisable.

Is there a rule for determining this? Sort of, but it’s not very helpful (like the one for –able versus –ible).

The general rule is where the word is fully English, go with un–.  Example: unwholesome. Where the root is Latin (or more immediately so), the negated form generally takes in–, as in ineffable or inevitable.

This assumes some familiarity with word origins, however – and it may not always be easy to determine whether a word is more Latin than English. In those cases, you might go either way: it could be insanitary or unsanitary, for example.

The Latinity rule breaks down anyway. The root of both just and justice is Latin, but it’s fully acclimatised in English. This leaves us with unjust but injustice. Similarly, unable but inability. Maybe un– for shorter words and in– for longer ones? And yet, unexpressive but inexpressible.

Words ending in –ed and –ing  tend to go with un—(undigested; unceasing, uncomprehending). Words ending in —ible usually take in—(inaccessible), but –able words don’t follow a regular pattern: inconceivable but unbelievable. For –ent, go with in—(infrequent).

The following could take un– or in– (for those marked with an *, the in– form is probably in the ascendant):

communicative

escapable*

decipherable*

substantial*

In the end, you just have to remember.

Next time: oh, with the verbing!

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Technology

Surprising as it may be, of the available free sources for American case law, there may be none better than Google Scholar.

For starters, check out the main search screen – “Case law” is one of two main searches you can do (alongside “Articles). Once you have selected Case law, you get a list of higher-level courts for all 50 states, all Federal Court circuits, and of course, the U.S. Supreme Court.

From there, it is only a matter of constructing your google search. As always, be mindful of Operators, how to apply Filters, and generally good search practices.

To give you an idea of the depth of this database, I tried a search in just New York courts for the word “replevin” (my favourite unusual legal term) – and got 730 hits, including 96 from the 1960s, 78 from the 1950s, and four from the 1940s. The same search in CanLII (considered an excellent source for Canadian case law) returns 448 cases.

The site includes citator to see how the current case has been treated in courts, as well as cross-linking to cases cited in the document.

If there is a better free source for American case law, please comment below.

[This tip by Ken Fox originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

  • Research & Writing

Whenever you set out to use any electronic research source, be it a public web search or a specialized database, there are a few questions you should always ask – four to be exact. You may say there are really five or six important questions, or maybe you think there are only three, and that’s ok. But for me, not three but four is the magic number.

So here are my four questions you should always ask, with examples drawn from some of our favourite databases.

1. What is the SCOPE of the database?

Or what is its reach? How would you describe the collection of documents? What topics are covered? How current, how far back in time? What is the geographic extent of the database and what languages are used?

For an Internet search engine such as Google, the scope is all documents within the reach of its automated web-crawling indexer. But for most sites, the scope is limited by subject, geography, &/or time. For some, such as our Saskatchewan Cases database, the user should have a pretty good idea, based on the title, that the scope is limited by geography and subject matter. But what about time? For that we have a scope note conveniently located in the lower-right corner of the search page. For a complex system of databases like CanLII, the scope note is myriad.

For some online services, such as our Find a Lawyer search, the scope is rigorously monitored and crucial to the database’s usefulness. There is one record for every active (practicing) member of the Law Society of Saskatchewan. It is updated instantly. If a record exists, then that person is an active, licensed lawyer in Saskatchewan. If there is no record, then that individual is retired, suspended, inactive, or otherwise not a currently practicing lawyer in the province.

2. What constitutes a RECORD?

What are the individual things the database consists of?

Some case law databases, like Saskatchewan Cases or the Canadian Abridgment, consist of summaries or digests. Others, like CanLII, consist of primary law – judgments and legislation. In others, such as the case law components of Quicklaw and WestlawNext, you can search a combination of summaries and full-text documents. Knowing if you are searching a short summary or full-text decision is very important in formulating your search.

The Saskatchewan Bills database has a unique scope. Each record constitutes a Saskatchewan statute that was affected – created, amended, or repealed – by a Saskatchewan bill. So note that although the database is called “Bills,” the individual records are not bills but statutes, as they were affected by the bills. Thus, there will be a separate record each time a statute is amended, and separate records for each statute affected by single bill. This sounds a bit complicated, but users of the database will agree that there is tremendous advantage to this structure when conducting statutory research.

3. What is the Search SYNTAX?

Know your operators – every search is different. Until you know the basic commands for a site – AND, OR, Phrase, etc. – you should consult the “search tips” or “connectors” every time. Many sites include a link to their search tips, operators, connectors, or “search help.” Some, like Saskatchewan Cases, display the operators right on the search page. In CanLII, scroll over the question marks at the end of the command lines for basic commands, and from there click on help page for more detail.

A closely-related and equally crucial question (and the fifth in the list, if you think the thumb is a finger) – what is the default operator? How will the search interpret two words beside each other in the command line without any connector between them? For our Law Society research databases, it is always a phrase – the search will look for those two words in the same order. That’s a bit unusual. Many search engines default to AND, and some to OR.

Increasingly common, though, is a type of hybrid where the search engine looks for the words (1) together in order (phrase), (2) both included but not necessarily together (AND), and (3) either word (OR) – then an algorithm sorts out the order for you, so the most relevant documents are at the top. Yes, for these types of sites maybe you can ignore everything I’ve said about operators and still get somewhat useful results. Fine. But don’t assume that’s the case – I’m talking to you, Millennials!

4. How are the results ORDERED?

Don’t assume relevance ranking. Our databases, for example, always order the results in reverse chronology (newest to oldest). These days, many databases offer ranking options (usually in a drop-down menu). So if you are looking at a case law database, think about if you want your results by relevance, date, court level or number of cites. If there are a large number of hits (and you can’t think of how to reduce them), then relevancy may be best. For a small number, level of court or number of citations may be better.

Increasingly, searching filters, such as a menu allowing you to limit to documents from only a single jurisdiction, court level, or date span, can be applied after the search – whereas traditionally they were applied beforehand. CanLII and WestlawNext are two good examples from the Canadian legal world. Filtering search results is a very useful feature – it enables you to search broadly, then gives you considerable control over how the results are displayed and what types of records are visible.

[This tip by Ken Fox originally appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog]

 

  • Practice

A number of Canadians wait until the last minute to contribute to their RRSP. Perhaps it’s a financial hangover after the Christmas bills have come in or a general avoidance to deal with their finances. Often the RSP investment is made without any real thought on how the investment will be withdrawn to create and income stream in retirement or without considering alternative types of investments such as a TFSA. Before the March 1st deadline ask yourself: have I created a plan to pay as little tax as possible when I start to draw an income from my investments?

Are all investments taxed the same? The answer is no….

The important thing to understand about passive income is that different types of investments are also taxed differently. For example Interest income is taxed more heavily up front and capital gains investments are taxed more when you withdraw them. Some have limits as to how much can be invested such as the RRSP and TFSA, for example.

How risky is it to invest?

Certain passive investments do not guarantee income, such as stocks or equity mutual funds, while other assets such as annuities provide a contractual income guarantee. Some passive investments receive income from different types of asset classes, such as a balanced mutual fund, and some depending on the asset type, will produce a small, moderate, or higher income to live on. Keep in mind RSP and TFSA can be invested in any asset class you choose.

Some investments that create income might be more conservative in terms of income earned (GIC for example) but a lower risk of losing the amount you invested while others might produce a higher return (like a stock) but your investment is at a greater risk of short term loss. Keep in mind RSP and TFSA can be invested in any asset class you choose.

The ideal scenario is to have multiple passive income streams working on your behalf so that you are not having to draw income from only one type of investment. This helps to spread out the taxes and risks over a number of investment sources.

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)

 

  • Research & Writing

From the mailbag.

Baffled in British Columbia enquires, ‘I have this feeling that I shouldn’t use “hopefully” in the way that I do. Can you shed some light?’

Let there be light, Baffled.

The standard meaning of hopefully is ‘in a hopeful manner’. Example: The articling student started work hopefully, confident that she would find the answer.

There is a second – and more controversial – sense to the word, when it’s used to mean ‘It is hoped (that)’ or ‘I hope (that)’.  As in, The partner told the associate, “Hopefully, you’ll be finished this task before midnight.

Grammar nerds often criticise the second usage, on the grounds that it doesn’t clearly refer to the person who is doing the hoping.

But hopefully in this sense does perform a useful function (although I hope would work just as well). There is a reasonable argument that because people use hopefully in this way and everyone knows what they mean when they do, it has become acceptable.

Defenders of hopefully in sense 2 often trot out the analogous German word hoffentlich, which means ‘it is to be hoped’, and they note that its English equivalent has been used in the same way since the early eighteenth century (in America, at any rate), with objections only surfacing in the 1960s.

The Oxford English Dictionary Online gives both meanings, but says that the second is ‘avoided by many writers’.  You may want to do the same, if only to avoid being called out by a grammar nerd.

Bewildered on Bay Street asks, ‘Is it to “orient” or to “orientate”? “Oriented” or “Orientated”?’

Either actually, although orientate(d) is more common in the UK, orient(ed) in the US. This is one of those rare occasions when I would side with the Yanks; orientate just sounds fussy.

Orient also has the virtue of being the older form of the word, borrowed directly from the French orienter in the early eighteenth century.

Cranky in Calgary asks, ‘Is “Will do” an appropriate response from junior people to a request for assistance? I find it kind of annoying.’

Will do is both grammatically correct and stylistically traditional, Cranky.

On its own, however, it may seem a bit abrupt, even curt. An exclamation mark could help with that, turning what might seem begrudging into a more clearly enthusiastic expression of willingness.

Context is everything – and tone is notoriously difficult to convey electronically. (Although Cranky’s tone was unmistakable!)

Puzzled on the Prairies writes, ‘What is the correct plural of “factum”? Is it “facta” or “factums”?’

One sees both, but factums seems to be preferable.

But what about memoranda, then? Well, even though words ending in –um take –a as their plural form in Latin, we get factum from Latin via French (and civil law). As a result, we’ve adopted the naturalised French plural factums. Memorandum comes to us more directly from Latin, so takes –a (although memorandums is an old plural form (Shakespeare used it) that seems to be gaining traction in modern US and non-legal usage). Who said English was regular?

Factum is, incidentally, not a common word outside the Canadian legal context: the equivalent document is a brief in the US, a skeleton argument in England.

Troubled in Toronto writes, ‘I got a mark-up from a US law firm last week which changed “enure” to “inure”.  I always thought “enure” was the legal term (“this agreement will enure to the benefit of…”) and “inure” was for getting used to something unpleasant (“after two months backpacking across Asia, I was inured to the rock-bottom conditions of Cambodian hostels”). Am I right?’

My research indicates that the UK tendency is to use inure in your Cambodian hostels sense, enure in the legal sense.

But the two words derive from the same source (the obsolete noun ure, which means ‘use’ or ‘practice’), and ultimately mean the same thing: one gets used to Cambodian hostels, the legal benefit is put to one’s use.

The Oxford English Dictionary Online prefers inure, but its examples of usage go both ways (and enure is more frequent in the legal citations). Fowler’s Modern English Usage says the variant spellings are unnecessary and opts for inure only.

I’d still do it your way though, Troubled, unless pressed by a Yank.

Next: is that in– or un–?

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Practice

There I was at the office, churning away, berated by my boss, being laughed at, missing meetings, leavings tasks unfinished. Everywhere my heart raced, a test around every corner. Perform or perish – I was perishing. But then the fog of sleep lifted, the grey clouds of my old job giving way to the sunshine of reality. The old job long gone, I breathed in the heaven of the here and now. Sometimes a nightmare is good for the soul.

Perhaps because I love giving advice more than taking it, I often talk to lawyers considering a career change. I have seen lawyers write out a list of all the pros and cons about their current position, do the same about another position, and compare the two. I have seen flow charts looking like Nobel prize-winning chemistry equations diagramming possibilities and priorities. I have seen lawyers meander about from story to story, soul-searching their personal histories for the holy grail of meaning. I have seen calculations measuring income adjusted for standard of living, taking into consideration the cost of health benefits, sick days, vacation days, commuting time and cost, and pension matching programs, to arrive at the best possible total compensation. But it is the rare bird who thinks about the question under the three heads of happiness: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Strong research, and now popular psychology, supports the theory that happiness correlates with your own perception of your level of independence, the quality of your relationships, and how good you think you are at what you do. Young lawyers, you may have low levels of autonomy depending on the kind of files you are working on. Do you have the patience to wait it out, gain experience, and eventually achieve autonomy as a more experienced lawyer? Can you find autonomy and satisfaction in the task assigned to you? It may well be a matter of perspective and delaying gratification. Relationships at work can vary from place to place. If you are unhappy with your friendships at work, or lack thereof, is the problem the workplace or you? Might a change of scenery affect that? Feeling competent is hard for a lawyer. Most of us are perfectionists and little mistakes can be costly. Do your colleagues support you enough? Can you improve your resilience? (Research shows that resilience is one of the most train-able skills.)

So today’s tip: if you’re considering a change of scenery, take stock of your levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Assess your abilities in each and determine if the weakness lies in you or the job. You’ll have a better idea of what to do about the former (train up!) and about the latter.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

  • Research & Writing

The following is based on a post made by John Sadler of Western University on the CALL listserv.

CanLII does not offer a custom field that permits searching by counsel.  However, there is a technique for finding cases in which a particular lawyer appeared for one of the parties. It relies on the fact that most cases follow a uniform syntax when identifying counsel. For example in a case in which Ms June L. Carter was counsel, the reasons for judgment will say something like the following at the beginning:

               June L. Carter, for the respondent

To search for Ms. Carter’s cases one might try this search in the “Document text” field

               “Carter for the”

For greater precision, try a qualifier that describes who the lawyer is representing, e.g.

               “Carter for the respondent”

Other “qualifiers” that could be used include “accused’, “plaintiff”, “defendant”, “applicant”, and “appellant”.

The technique is not foolproof, of course. Sometimes one will get false hits with common surnames, so the searches above would also pick up cases where John Carter was the counsel. You may need to play around with variations of the counsel’s name such as surname only, given name and surname, initials and surname, etc. Still, the above approach is a refinement on simply throwing the lawyer’s name into the search statement.

Many thanks to John for letting me use his post.

 

  • Research & Writing

Or even –uble?

Perhaps not one of the burning questions of the day, but I bet you’ve hesitated over this at least once.

I did recently, when trying to Google an antiques dealer who had a well-priced early 20th-century silver snuffbox. The dealer used the form collectibles in its business name, it turned out.

This is the (mostly) US spelling of the preferable (but disappearing) collectable, which means ‘that may be collected’ (Violators are subject to a fine collectable on summary conviction) or ‘(thing) worth collecting, sought after by collectors’ (Silver snuffboxes are highly collectable – really!).

Is there a general rule for determining which ending to use? Most of the time it’s –able, and usually if the stem is a complete word in itself (bill/billable, as opposed to feasible or tangible, which aren’t formed from feas and tang).

The more detailed rules are a bit arcane.

The default position is –able, unless the word is derived from a Latin verb ending in –ere or –ire, or where there is a well-established ­ible form (like collectible?) in English already.

If your Latin is a bit rusty, you’ll just have to remember a list of words like this:

  • demonstrable (–able replaces the final –ate in demonstrate, as with abominate, alienate, appreciate, calculate etc.)
  • enforceable (the final –e of enforce stays so the following consonant stays soft; same thing for manageable, pronounceable etc.)
  • forgivable (the final –e in forgive drops out because it isn’t necessary for pronunciation; same thing for movable, usable and the like)
  • justifiable (the final –y gets converted to an i)
  • predictable

BUT

  • convertible
  • incorrigible (compare uncorrectable)
  • incredible (compare unbelievable)
  • irresistible
  • perceptible (perceivable)
  • responsible
  • reversible
  • soluble and insoluble (a soluble substance, an insoluble problem – although unsolvable is also possible for the latter)

Where the stem ends in a hard C or G, or a consonant that gets doubled in the adjectival form, go with –able (amicable, navigable, forgettable).

New words have tended not to go with the –ible ending.

Sometimes there are two forms, not always with the same meaning: extendable and extendible are interchangeable; but contractable (‘able to be caught’, like a disease) isn’t the same as contractible (‘capable of being made smaller’).

Totally confused now?

Next: your queries answered, part 3

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)