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All Our Tips

  • Research & Writing

Did you know that the Canadian Bar Association publishes toolkits in multiple practice areas? Today I want to tell you in particular about the Child Rights Toolkit that was launched just May 11 of this year.

This toolkit describes its four main parts as:

Fundamentals – provides the fundamental framework of child rights including where they come from, what they are, who is responsible and the status of child rights in Canada.

The System: Cross-Cutting Themes – outlines available systemic child rights supports and tools and in particular independent human rights institutions and child rights impact assessments.

The Child: Cross-Cutting Themes – highlights subjects that may be applicable to the child or a group of children you work with that transcend all areas of the law, such as Charter rights, best interests of the child, child participation, legal representation and freedom from all forms of violence.

Legal Areas – provides four steps to implement a child rights based approach in practice as well as child rights information and law in specific legal domains such as child protection, family law, youth criminal justice, and immigration.

Each of these opens up an in-depth commentary with labyrinth links to international conventions, federal and provincial legislation, major case law, policy documents, and articles.

Three years in the making, and developed by a long list of content experts, CBA staff, and steering committee members, this toolkit is well worth a good look for anyone involved in the rights of children in Canada or internationally.

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

 

  • Practice

New lawyers, I hope this tip will follow you well for your whole career. Begin doing this now and do it every time, to the point where it becomes a habit. It will both help your practice and protect you in the event of a malpractice claim. Document all client interactions, whether over the phone, or in a meeting – even the quick or “0.1” conversation. If you are a young lawyer or articling student who may never encounter a client in your first year, this advice applies to your encounters with senior lawyers who give you assignments. Treat them as your clients, as you are in effect providing them with your legal advice.

When you step into a meeting, take a notepad with you and take notes. This applies even to the meetings where you are told “this will take just a second.” You’ll be surprised how often a second can become fifteen minutes of intense legal analysis. Every time you pick up the phone to speak with a client, open a note in the file and record what was said. Pay particular attention to instructions given to you, and recommendations you give.

When you are asked, ten days, ten months, or ten years after the fact about what happened, you will be able to reference your notes and recall the conversation accurately. Did you miss following through on instructions? Did the client take your recommendations? Did you discuss the possible outcomes and risks of the steps involved? It’s all in your notes – so long as you keep them.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

  • Research & Writing

This is intended mostly for the baby-boomers out there.

If you’re writing a client piece, it’s often tempting to jazz things up with a reference to sports, popular music, TV or movies.

This can be effective, both in conveying an image and in making the writer look human (which isn’t always easy in legal writing). There are some pitfalls, however.

Those born before 1965 may have to come to the shocking realisation that there is a now a generation for whom The Beatles are just some old band their grandparents bore on about.

Trying to look hip can also backfire, as the current mayor of Toronto found out when he lauded Kanye West as a ‘proud product of our music industry’. Whatever his other foibles, the late Rob Ford probably wouldn’t have made the same mistake.

I know the day will come when my Advanced Legal Research and Writing class fails to recognise The Smiths. This is inevitable but regrettable, not only because they helped to define my late adolescence, but also because the band’s squabble over money is a such a nice illustration of basic principles of partnership law (see Joyce v Morrissey, (1998) All ER 556 (CA), and a rather different account of the facts in Morrissey’s Autobiography (2013)).

Sports references can be vivid, but also problematic. American writers make the mistake of assuming that the entire world loves baseball as much as they do. (The term ‘World Series’ appears to originate not from the sport’s purported global reach but from early sponsorship by the New York World newspaper.)

By the same token, Canadians may want to avoid too many hockey references if they have potential readers in Australia or Hong Kong – or Canadian readers who grew up in cultures in which the dominant sports aren’t hockey and (North American) football, but cricket or (what the rest of the world calls) football. Many Americans will not have played games that involve the offside rule, so using offside to describe improper behaviour may give rise to blank looks. Female readers may (but may not) be put off by sports analogies of any kind.

And we’ve all met that tiresome guy (and it is usually a guy) who can repeat whole episodes of Monty Python, Seinfeld, The Simpsons … Remember that not all who read your client piece will have seen the particular episode you find hilarious (or if they have, have found it hilarious).

It’s best to stick to references that everyone will get. No easy thing.

Next edition: let’s get personal

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Research & Writing

If you’re having difficulty finding the amendments made to an act by another act, make sure you’re consulting the original act rather than the consolidation. Consolidations generally omit amendments to other acts.

For example, the new British Columbia Societies Act made changes to a number of acts including the Business Corporations Act. If you wanted to see the text of those changes, you would need to look at the text of the Societies Act as it read initially rather than in its consolidated form.

Susannah Tredwell

 

  • Research & Writing

Bi
H.W. Fowler refers in Modern English Usage to the ‘misshapen brood’ of bi– words that are used to describe the frequency of intervals: biannual, bi-monthly, bi-weekly and the like.

The problem with them is that they are ambiguous: bi-weekly, for example, can mean either twice a week or every two weeks. At least a biennial (like the Biennale art exhibition held in Venice) is always held every two years, not twice in one.

Careful drafters of contracts will obviously want to make things perfectly clear, especially when dealing with dates of payment obligations and the like. And even non-contractual writers may wish to avoid uncertainty.

There are some options to avoid the ambiguity of bi–. Semi-monthly is clearer than bi-monthly, if you want to say that something is to occur twice in any given month. But both words are what Fowler calls ‘ugly hybrids’. Fortnightly  is an option, if you’re OK with sounding very British. Or you could just say twice monthly, every two weeks or every other week. Fowler’s proposal to adopt half-monthly doesn’t appear to have gained much traction, but you could try it – and you wouldn’t be misunderstood.

Centuries
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Canada’s centennial in 1967 and the bicentennial of US independence in 1976. In the UK, these would have been centenary (pronounced cen-TEEN-er-ee) and bicentenary (bye-cen-TEEN-er-ee).

When Toronto celebrated the 150th anniversary of its incorporation back in 1984, someone dredged up sesquicentennial, a word that doesn’t appear to be used all that much. It did engender a twee squirrel mascot called Seskwee (although it wasn’t black in colour like the characteristic Toronto rodent).

The federal government, wisely, did not try to figure out the Latinate term for the 125th anniversary of Confederation when that occurred in 1992. (The unwieldy quasquicentennial has been suggested.) Instead, the feds opted for Canada 125, universally called Canada one two five (perhaps a deliberate echo of the colloquial term for a case of beer). Canada 125 made up in clarity what it lacked in imagination – and, predictably, we are approaching what is officially being called Canada 150.

But perhaps we still have the dodransbicentennial, dodrabicentennial or possibly dequabicentennial  of Confederation to look forward to in 2042 – with Dodra or Dequa the beaver as mascot?

Millennial
Once every thousand years. Also, now, used to refer to the much-maligned generation that came of age around the dawn of the new millennium – although millennial  is often used for anyone born somewhere between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.

Note: spell millennial and millennium with two Ls and two Ns. Millennia (and centuries) begin in years ending in 1 (2001, not 2000), by the bye; there was no year 0.

Next: keep your cultural references current and universal

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Practice

As this fall marks another season of incoming new lawyers and articling students, this tip is for you. When you receive your first assignment from your articling principal or senior lawyer, you may be left wondering where you should start. Sometimes the answer is with the assigning lawyer’s assistant or law clerk. The assistant can provide you with similar precedents the assigning lawyer has already perfected. These precedents can provide you with valuable insights into the legal writing and work product you are expected to achieve.

Yes, you can tackle the work on your own without any guidance – but wouldn’t it be easier to follow the well-worn path? Many assignments do not require you to reinvent the wheel. A statement of claim is likely to set out the theory of liability and damages, which may closely mirror past cases. Pay attention to the wording used in precedents, as the phrases used may be taken directly from cases. The same goes for research memos, letters to clients, factums, etc. While Google and CanLII can be very helpful, don’t neglect the human resource available to you a few steps away.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)

 

  • Research & Writing

Did you know that the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) website provides a wealth of free practice resources?  We encourage you to check it out!

Here is a break down of the amazing resources provided by the CBA:

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

 

  • Research & Writing

Feeling respect and regard for your readers is important, but this edition is more specifically about words and phrases derived from respect and regard.

Regard and derivatives
First, regards as opposed to regard.

Regards are what you express, typically at the end of a letter or e-mail, in order to sound friendly; but as your humble scribe has previously said, you could usefully dispense with them altogether – they add nothing (see Beginnings and endings).

In any event, do NOT say with regards to or in regards to. Here, the correct word is regard (singular). Better yet, just say about or on.

Irregardless is not a word (or at least not in the standard English you want to be using): you mean regardless (or perhaps irrespective).

Respect and derivatives
Respect can be used like regards, to express esteem for another person. In professional writing , this may sound a bit too Ali G (‘Massive respect …‘).

When you disagree with someone, you should also avoid that leaden opener With respect …, which usually indicates that the writer has anything but respectful thoughts about the reader.

The adverb respectfully is just as bad, if not worse. Use it in a factum if you must, but don’t lard the thing with it.  As Justice Laskin has said: ‘Avoid using the phrase “it is respectfully submitted” more than twice in your factum. […] Repeated too often, this phrase disrupts the force and flow of your argument’. It also sounds pompous and old-fashioned.

In a legal setting, try to confine respect to these two phrases: with respect to and in respect of. But here again, you’re better off going with a simpler construction entirely, like good old about. And to say respecting in this sense looks like you’re writing with a quill pen.

Respectively is frequently misused. It needs to connect items in one list with their counterparts in a second list in the same sentence.  Fowler’s Modern English Usage entertainingly lists five types of incorrect use, but space doesn’t permit full discussion here.

This is wrong: X, Y and Z respectively guarantee Z’s obligations.

This is correct: X, Y and Z shall not make capital expenditures in any fiscal year in excess of $5 million, $3 million and $1 million, respectively. [Examples adapted from Ross Guberman and Gary Karl’s Deal Struck: The World’s Best Drafting Tips (2014).]

Next time: just how frequently is that?

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

 

  • Technology

Over the summer, we will be highlighting Legal Sourcery’s most popular research tips.  On that note, here are Legal Sourcery’s most popular current awareness tips:

If you have any questions, ask a Law Society Librarian! We are pleased to provide high-quality legal research services to Saskatchewan members in person, on the telephone, or by email.

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

 

  • Practice

This tip was inspired by a young mother I know, a senior associate at a big firm, who shared with me her recipe for handling the challenging tension between mom-time and lawyer time: the early escape.

Here’s how it works: One night a week she stays late at the office, until between eight and ten at night, depending on the week. Then, two days later, she leaves the office in the early afternoon to pick her kids up early from daycare for some special time with them.

This wonderful “life hack” checks two important boxes for her. She checks her productivity box by getting gets a nice uninterrupted period of time each week to push through a whole lot of work. She also checks what she calls her “mommy box” with this dose of fun unstructured time with her kids.

Once you put in your time and rise in the ranks in a law firm, these opportunities for flex time open up, if you are willing to take advantage of them. The twin bottom lines in private practice – service to clients and the billable hour – can both be well served within a flexible schedule.

It turns out this strategy is also frequently employed by professionals in other sectors. New York Times journalist Neil Irwin reports on this trend in his article: “How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters” citing the research conducted by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. Reid conducted a study of more than 100 professionals at an elite consulting firm.

“Some 31 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women whose records Ms. Reid examined managed to achieve the benefits of a more moderate work schedule without explicitly asking for it.

They made an effort to line up clients who were local, reducing the need for travel. When they skipped work to spend time with their children or spouse, they didn’t call attention to it. One team on which several members had small children agreed among themselves to cover for one another so that everyone could have more flexible hours.”

Our devices allow us to be connected to the office day and night. For many this on-line connectivity functions as a ball and chain that means we are never truly off work. By setting boundaries though, and using these devices to their full advantage, you can get out of the office and onto the soccer field when you need to. There are many ways to be out of the office and in a meeting. It might be a meeting with clients, or at your child’s school. In the case of one very in-demand associate I know it meant he was at the gym.

There are still those old school lawyers – dare I say dinosaurs – who insist that what really counts is time at your desk. They want to see you in at the office in the early morning and still there past the supper hour. I say what really counts is the quality of your work, your relationship with your clients, and how you manage your practice. All three of these get the most optimal results when you are well rested, energized, and in a positive state of mind.

Have a look at your workweek and see where you can introduce some flexibility into the mix. Experiment with mixing up your working hours and see what kind of an impact that has for you overall. I especially urge you to get out of the office early some of these last days of summer. Give it a try – you just might like the results.

[This tip by Allison Wolf originally appeared on the Lawyer with a Life Blog]