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

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All Our Tips

  • Research & Writing

For anyone looking a good guide to legal research, Catherine Best’s “Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research” has been updated by a team of legal research experts (Melanie Bueckert, André Clair, Maryvon Côté, Yasmin Khan and Mandy Ostick) and added to CanLII’s commentary section.

The revised Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide is divided up into 13 sections (including “Step-By-Step Legal Research Process”, “Use Commentary to Define and Understand the Issues”, “Guidelines for Online Research”, “Researching Canadian Federal and Provincial Legislation”, “Searching Canadian Case Law”, “Stare Decisis and Techniques of Legal Reasoning and Legal Argument”, “Preparing a Legal Memorandum”, and “Legal Citation”) and includes lots of practical advice.

 

  • Technology

Is your computer slow right now? Maybe there’s something you can do about that – right now.

The problem

Generally, the more apps you run at the same time, the more your computer slows down.

The solution

Find out how many programs you have open at any given time. You can quit programs you don’t need at the moment.

You can browse the dock (Mac) or toolbar (Windows) to do this, but I prefer a keyboard shortcut that both computer platforms offer.

On a Mac, hold down the Cmd key (Windows – Crtl), then press Tab. Icons pop up in a row in the middle of the screen showing all the apps your computer is currently running.

App_switching

Stop on a given app and you switch to that application.

If your computer is running slowly, consider quitting apps you don’t need right now.

Want to try other things to help you speed up your computer? Consider these tips:

  • Get rid of bloatware on your computer
  • Clean off your desktop
  • Quit applications that demand a lot of energy from your computer

What do you do to speed up your computer? Share any tips in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

  • Research & Writing

As I’ve suggested previously, odds are if you insert the word clearly in your sentence you are trying to impose clarity on something that isn’t clear at all. If something really is clear, you don’t need to say so.

In the same vein is the phrase highly anticipated (‘This highly anticipated decision from …’; ‘The release of the OSC’s highly anticipated rule on …’). The phrase gets used a lot: according to Slaw’s Canadian Law Blogs Search Engine, it occurs approximately 5,080,000 times in Canadian blog posts.

That sure sounds like over-use – or, in other words, a reason not to use a hackneyed expression.

Not only hackneyed, but also far from the truth. What it usually means is ‘highly anticipated by a single law nerd or small group of them who need to make this blog post sound more important than it probably is’.

You can and should do better in your blogging: show your reader why something is important or interesting; don’t merely assert.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Technology

I like exploring ways to improve my Inbox Zero habit. This habit enables me to effectively handle everything that comes at me via email. I do this by:

  • putting the information in the right places
  • deleting or filing the original email

The email inbox is never the right place for contacts, calendar appointments, tasks or other things I need to act on. That’s why my inbox contains NO emails at the end of a day.

Making Inbox Zero easier

It’s easier to keep the inbox empty if I prevent unwanted emails from arriving in the first place. That’s why I unsubscribe from as many lists as I can. I also use email rules to file listserv emails for me when they arrive.

There are other types of emails I’d rather not deal with. These include:

  • marketing messages that don’t offer unsubscribe options
  • conversation listserv messages where the topic is contentious, unimportant and a waste of my time
  • messages from people I would rather not hear from (I can count these on the fingers of one hand, fortunately.)

Maybe you can add other types of messages to this list.

When you have your list, consider creating a “delete email” rule so you never need to deal with those messages again.

Here are the criteria I use for my rule.

  • I use the “any” option so that the rule is triggered under any of the conditions I list.
  • I list the criteria I want to have trigger the rule.
  • The actions involve both deleting the message and ensuring I never learn of the email in the first place.
  • I only use ONE rule for deleting ALL unwanted messages.

This graphic shows a “delete email” rule built in Mac Mail, but the concept is the same in Microsoft Outlook and the same or highly similar in most email software.

Would you use this rule? If you would, what would you block? Let me know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

  • Research & Writing

Not a question that arises in connection with drafting a contract or pleadings (one hopes), but certainly in composing e-mail.

Both are recognised forms.

On the traditional assumption that the expression was originally shorthand for all correct (rendered in humorous, dialectical or unschooled US English as oll (or orl) korrect), OK has the merit of being closer to the source.

There is something fishy-sounding about that etymology, I’ve always thought, but the OED and Fowler repeat it. The latter gives some other possible origins and a case reference to Nippon Menkwa Kabushiki Kaisha (Japan Cotton Trading Co Ltd) v Dawsons Bank Ltd [1935] 51 Ll LR 147 (PC (Burma), 1935), where Lord Russell of Killowen calls it a ‘commercial barbarism’ but accepts its usage in business transactions (even if, on the facts of the case, writing O.K. on an invoice did not give rise to an estoppel).

The older usage citations in the OED have OK (the first is from 1839), with okay appearing later in the nineteenth century, so OK also appears to have age on its side. Spell with or without periods (I prefer to omit them).

Okeh is a variant (and the name of a jazz record company founded in 1918 by Otto K.E. Heinemann, as an obvious play on his initials and the popular expression). Okey-doke and okey-dokey emerged in the 1930s, Ned Flanders’s okely-dokely circa 1990.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Technology

Researching articles. Writing school assignments. Quoting other people in blog posts. During each activity, I usually cut text from one document and paste it into another.

The resulting text may make sense, but it often ends up looking like a ransom note, with different sections of text cut out of the headlines of various magazines and newspapers. That’s because the original publishers of the source texts use their own formatting, which can make words appear in different colours, fonts, sizes and so forth.

This isn’t a good look. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent this problem from happening. Here are two.

Use a web browser’s address bar

I sometimes copy text from a document and paste it into my browser’s address bar to search for that text. Recently, I read a tip about how the address bar strips formatting from any text pasted in it.

So I tried this experiment.

  1. Copy all the text from a seven-page PDF. This document uses formatting that’s distinct from the formatting of my target document.
  2. Paste that seven pages of text into my browser’s address bar.
  3. Select all (from the Edit menu or the keyboard shortcut, which appears in the Edit menu).
  4. Copy the text.
  5. Paste the text into my document.

Voilà! The text gets pasted, stripped of formatting. You may need to separate paragraphs and sentences, but you won’t need to reformat anything.

Paste and Match Style

Safari, the browser I used in the experiment above, has an option in the Edit menu called “Paste and Match Style.”

This option appears in many programs that handle text. It might also be called “Paste and Match Formatting.” In older software, it might be hidden in the “Paste Special…” option.

Options like these save me plenty of time when I want to write a document that not only reads well, but looks good.

Do you use any time-saving tactics when you create a document using pieces of other documents? Please share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]

 

  • Research & Writing

We’ve covered bad business jargon in this space, but other fields of endeavour are guilty of polluting the language with their specialist lingo.

Human resources (itself a piece of HR jargon; it used to be personnel or, in a more sexist age, manpower) comes to mind. Here are some examples of HR jargon to avoid; there are many more.

Diverse
Americans often refer to a diverse attorney when they want to describe a lawyer (as we would typically say in Canada) from a background that is other than white, male, straight, middle class. But in a room full of brown lesbian barristers, there is no diversity (at least on the basis of race, sexual orientation or area of practice). We are diverse only in relation to others and collectively.

What the adjective means in diverse lawyers is, less concisely but more accurately, historically disadvantaged or underrepresented in the legal profession. That’s a bit of a mouthful, so perhaps diverse in this context serves a purpose.

But I still don’t like its imprecision.

Feedback
Originally, feed-back; and used to describe the return of electrical output from one segment of a circuit or amplifier to an earlier stage of input – like the feedback from the speakers when you’re rocking out on an electric guitar.

From about the 1940s, the word began to be applied metaphorically to a response to any kind of process, often in relation to the kind of behavioural conditioning associated with the American psychologist B.F. Skinner.

More recently, and in HR-speak, feedback has come to mean commentary on someone’s job performance.

Given the origins of the term in circuitry and behavioural science, where feedback is involuntary or automatic, rather than thoughtful or considered, its extension to performance reviews is somewhat unfortunate. Couldn’t we just ask for comments, views or a review? But this is a losing battle; feedback in its HR sense is here to stay.

Proactive
This is a recent coinage, much loved by those who give (but perhaps not receive) performance reviews.

It was invented as an opposite for reactive, a quality which is perceived as a weakness and in need of a forward-looking alternative (even though reacting is often all one can do when events are unforeseen or unforeseeable, as they often are).

Even those with foresight don’t proact, they simply act; and if one is both thinking ahead, one anticipates. Seen in a positive light, proactive means thoughtful or careful; more neutrally, merely fortunate in predicting an outcome (or in making it look as though one saw it coming).

Either way, proactive is overused HR jargon that is best avoided.

Team
This is another piece of weary HR-ese, with unpleasant overtones of organised fun, forced collegiality and top-down decision-making (Andrea and her team just makes me think it’s all about Andrea, somehow).

Or maybe I’m just not a team-player.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Technology

Today’s tip is part tech, part research. It’s a simple reminder to give a little love to your RSS reader.

(You ARE using an RSS reader, aren’t you? You’re not? Here’s a nice primer on why RSS is more important than ever in 2018.)

Whether you use Feedly, Inoreader, The Old Reader (my personal favourite) or something else, why not take a few minutes to check whether you’ve got any dead/defunct feeds among your subscriptions.

If a feed is dead or hasn’t updated in a really long time, does that mean the site is no longer publishing? Maybe the blog or news area got moved and the feed address changed, so you’re no longer getting updates from that site?

Investigate the source site and make sure you’re not missing anything you thought you were still getting.

While you’re at it, take a look at all your subscriptions and ask yourself whether each one is still useful to you.

Then ask yourself whether there are sites you’re NOT following, but could be. Do you have email subscriptions that could be replaced with RSS subscriptions, thereby reducing the email that accumulates in your inbox?

Lastly, consider whether upgrading your reader might be money well spent. Generally, paid accounts will let you subscribe to more feeds and give you more control over how you organize them, and for usually no more than the cost of a cup of coffee per month. Many readers give a choice of annual or monthly payment options.

Got a tested-and-true method for keeping your reader working optimally? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

  • Research & Writing

While some acts come into force on Royal Assent, many require Proclamation or an Order in Council to do so. A number of provinces publish tables that let you see if a specific act has been proclaimed.

Federal: Go to LEGISinfo, find your act and then click on the link for Coming into Force information. You can also check the Table of Public Statutes and Responsible Ministers which lists all the coming into force information for the consolidated version of an act.

Alberta: Check Recent Proclamations and the Alberta Gazette, Part I (use the Proclamations section of the Table of Contents to find a specific act).

British Columbia: Go to the Regulations Bulletins and look under “Acts in Force” on the Cumulative Regulations Bulletin. As with the Alberta Gazette, you will have to do this year by year.

Manitoba: http://web2.gov.mb.ca/laws/statutes/index_procs.php

Newfoundland and Labrador: http://www.assembly.nl.ca/legislation/sr/lists/Proclamation.htm

Nova Scotia: https://nslegislature.ca/legislation/proclamations-nova-scotia-statutes

Nunavut: You can find in force dates in the Table of Public Acts.

Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/proclamations

Prince Edward Island: You can find in force dates in the Table of Public Acts.

Quebec: http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/content/eevlois

Saskatchewan: The Saskatchewan Gazette, Part I lists both acts proclaimed that year and acts still waiting to be proclaimed.

(My apologies to New Brunswick: I wasn’t able to find a table of in force dates.)

Susannah Tredwell

 

  • Technology

People who try to recall an email after they’ve sent it might think it’s a good idea to close the barn doors after the horses have all fled.

That bit of snark comes courtesy of email systems that boast “recall” tools. I tried the one in Microsoft Outlook about a decade ago. It didn’t work for me, and I dealt with the fallout from a misunderstanding.

So I switched tack. Now I prevent fallout from poorly worded emails so I don’t have to perform after-the-fact damage control.

How do I do that, you ask? Simple: I wait an hour or more between the time I draft an important email and the time I send it. Reading it with “fresh eyes” helps me prevent most (not all) email mistakes.

I don’t do this with all emails. Sometimes I send quick, innocuous-enough messages with no real review. Every now and then a typo seeps in. But when the message and the recipient matter (especially in business) and the topic merits deep thought, I slow down.

I regularly used two methods to help me make sure I send the thoughts I want to convey. Both involve preventing emails from being sent until I feel they’re ready.

Write the email offline

I often write messages in a text editor. We all have these on our computers. They come with names like Notepad (Windows), TextEdit (Mac) and Microsoft Word (both Windows and Mac). The beauty of text editors (sans plugins) is that they don’t have an easy-to-access Send feature. Just save the message and set it aside for later review and sending.

Delete all recipients in a reply

You can write a reply in an email as long as it has no email addresses in the To, cc or bcc lines. If these fields are empty, your email software can’t send the message anywhere. You can then save the message in the Drafts folder for later review. Note: some email programs don’t show the Drafts folder unless you have actually saved one or more drafts.

How do you keep yourself from landing in email-fueled hot water? Do you use email recall systems that work? Or have you become a maestro at smoothing ruffled feathers? Let me know in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on luigibenetton.com]