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  • Research & Writing

I refer here, not to Nancy Mitford’s use of these terms in Noblesse Oblige (a very funny if dated guide to the sociolinguistics of the English class system, circa 1955*).

I mean the troublesome letter U that divides US spelling from UK. As ever, Canada (British North America?) falls somewhere betwixt.

The basic pattern

Let’s start with honour/honor as typical.

The word comes from Latin, which spells it honor without a U. The word came to English via the Normans (1066 and all that), which meant that when it became acclimatised in England it retained the U of the French honneur.

Noah Webster, the nineteenth-century American lexicographer, wanted US English to be closer to its roots in (republican) Rome, so promulgated the non-U spelling that has stuck in the Untidy States ever since.

Canadians, originally more British than Yankee, tended to go with Britannia’s honour rather than Uncle Sam’s honor — but one now sees both spellings north of the 49th parallel. The dominance of US spelling in all things computer-related is wearing away the Anglo; the default settings for spell-check and auto-correct are invariably US English, not our Canuck variant. If you haven’t, please change this; it’s often these little cultural things that really make us different from our neighbo(u)rs to the south.


Honour begets honourable,  and honor honorable.

That much is easy. But you would be deluding yourself if you thought English spelling followed regular rules.

Honour, labour etc. weren’t always the invariable British spellings. The Elizabethans would often leave out the U if they were feeling Latinate: Shakespeare’s play was originally published as Loues labors lost not Love’s Labours Lost. Certain words were routinely spelled with a U until the late 1700s (governourhorrour) but have now lost it.

And in modern British/Canadian English (as in the US), the correct form is honorary, not honourary — although in Canada one often sees the latter on the part of people who are so keen to wave the maple-leaf flag (or perhaps the Red Ensign) that they ignore (or don’t know) what’s correct.

The Yanks are not immune to this either: a number of years back, Ralph Lauren launched a perfume called Glamourous with an extra (but incorrect) U that was presumably intended to make the product look British, posh and … er … glamorous.

Similarly, one correctly writes colour, colourfulcolourise/colourize and colourist but coloration; odour but deodorise/deodorize; humour but humorous; vapour but vaporise/vaporizevigour but invigorate.

No one said it was easy.

Next: miscellaneous little things that annoy me, part 2

*In that book, U stands for ‘upper class’ (napkin not serviette, died not passed away etc.)

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

The return of a popular series.

pairs 1

Next: U and non-U

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Practice

A client insisted on meeting me in the midst of a busy day. Fully booked, I reluctantly agreed to meet the client at the end of the day. We began happily enough with the usual pleasantries. But once we sat down, a monster arose from the deep. One problem after another fell on my lap, and I began to parry. Despite all my best efforts, we began to talk in circles. Exhausted, my better judgment, along with my defences, fell, and tempers flared. After hours passed by, we bid adieu, accomplished nothing, each left stewing at the other. Despite all the other good interactions we had, the argument left a lingering bad taste. When the file resolved, I was, I’m sure, as relieved as the client was, to part ways. There are better ways to practice law.

Decision fatigue is the theory that we begin the day with a full tank of decision-making gas. With every decision we make, we burn up a little more gas. By day’s end we are running on empty, and we fall into two precarious states: conservativism, by which we stick with the status quo simply because it is the path of least resistance; or irrationalism, by which we make poor choices. Any one who has eaten a bag of potato chips at midnight understands this plight.

So the tip: avoid the end of day meeting if there is any potential for conflict. It is better at the beginning.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


  • Research & Writing

Not the donkey from Winnie the Pooh, but a pair of word endings.

First, –ee.
As in trustee, lessee, mortgagee, bailee, drawee, payee, attendee, mentee and the like.

This ending is common in law, often indicating the indirect object of some action. For example, the person to whom property is entrusted (trustee) or leased (lessee), the person to whom a mortgage is given (mortgagee).

It can also be the direct object of an action: for example, the person you employ (employee) or train (trainee).

So far, so good. But let’s not go crazy. Tippee (person in receipt of an (illegal) stock tip) is well-established, but not really necessary: one could as easily say the tipped or the recipient of a tip.

Worse are attendee, invitee, coachee and mentee. The first is illogical in relation to trustee or employee; the person who goes to something attends it, not is attended. Why not just say guest or participant? Invitee passes the logic test, but it’s rather ugly; here again, guest is preferable. Coachee is unlovely. Refugee, yes – but as for asylee, ugh.

Mentee is the one that really gets your humble scribe’s goat, however. It assumes that the word mentor, from which it is derived, comes from a verb in the way that other –ee words do.

Not so! Mentor is the name of the chap (but really the goddess Athena in disguise) who, in Greek mythology, tutored the young Telemachus while his dad went off to besiege Troy and then sail around the eastern Mediterranean. Mentee assumes that a mentor is someone who ments, but that isn’t a word at all, and certainly isn’t the root of either Mentor or mentor.

Admittedly, the alternatives for mentee aren’t great. I sometimes hear protégé(e), but that sounds at once pretentious and faintly creepy. How about just student, associate or junior?

Now, –or.
Lawyers like this one too: mortgagor, settlor, advisor. In non-lawyer English, -er is just as frequent, and sometimes one can use both (payer, payor). Adviser is perfectly correct (and actually the term of art used in Canadian securities legislation). Sometimes only the –er form is possible (employer).

One thing that has always puzzled me (OK, I may have time on my hands) is the difference in pronunciation between mortgagor and obligor. Under the normal rules of English pronunciation, those Gs before the Os should both be hard (as in gore). But it’s OB-li-gore (hard G) and MOR-gaj-or (soft G). In the US, the emphasis is more usually on the final syllable: mor-gaj-OR and ob-li-GORE but still those inconsistent Gs.

There are, in fact, the older but now less common variants obligeor and mortgager. They have the same legal meanings as their –or equivalents; an obligeor is also ‘a person who performs a service or kindness’. Pronounced MOR-gaj-er and o-BLIGE-er.

Now you know.

Next up: confusing pairs, part 3

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Technology

The Internet is home to a growing body of high quality materials such as research guides, government reports, and legal commentary.  Accessing this material is as easy as typing keywords into Google and hitting enter, right?  Wrong!

The challenge to using Google efficiently is wading through the overwhelming volume of results retrieved.  Fortunately, there are tools to help pinpoint what you are looking for.  There is far more to searching Google than you might think.

Identify the Core Concepts

The first step to searching effectively is selecting effective search terms.  Identify the core concepts.  These will become your search terms.  Remove vague terms from the query.  They do nothing to improve the quality of the results.  Do not type a full question in the search bar.  Focus on the core concepts and eliminate everything else.

Search Operators and Filters

Operators and filters enable you to search with precision.  Advanced searches can be conducted with Google’s advanced search page or by incorporating operators and filters directly into Google’s search bar.  I recommend incorporating them into the search bar.  The real power of operators and filters comes from combining them together.  The search bar enables you to combine them with ease.  It is awkward to combine them with the advanced search page.

Here are the most useful operators and filters:

AND: AND separates terms that are distinct concepts, such as robbery AND weapon.  It narrows a search by retrieving results that contain both terms.  It is Google’s default operator.  As such, it is not necessary to type AND.  A space between terms is automatically interpreted as AND: robbery weapon.

OR: OR is used to separate terms that are synonyms of the same concept, such as (armed OR weapon OR knife).  It broadens a search by retrieving results that contain any of the search terms, but not necessarily all.  Enclose OR statements in brackets.

NOT:  NOT is represented by the minus sign.  It excludes results that contain a particular term.  For example, tort -defamation will not retrieve results that contain the term defamation.

PHRASE: To search for an exact phrase, enclose the phrase in quotes.  For example, “child of the marriage”.

SITE: Site limits the search to results from a certain website or domain.  For example, divorce only retrieves results from the Government of Canada domain.  divorce retrieves results from  This makes it easy to locate results from trustworthy websites.

ALLINTITLE: Title limits the search to results that contain the terms in the title.  For example, allintitle:legal regulation will retrieve results with these words in the title.  If your terms appear in the title of a document, it is likely relevant.

FILETYPE: File type limits the results to a certain file format.  For example, lsat filetype:pdf will retrieve results in PDF.  lsat filetype:ppt will retrieve results in PowerPoint.

Combining Operators and Filters

Combining operators and filters together will enable you to craft powerful queries and locate good results.  For example, (paralegal OR “legal technician”) “legal regulation” filetype:pdf will retrieve PDF documents from the Law Society of Saskatchewan domain on paralegals and legal regulation.

Evaluating the Results

Not everything Google retrieves is credible.  It is up to you to evaluate the results.  Consider authority, objectivity, and authorship.  Recognise that the order of the search results is not based on authority.  It is based on Google’s search algorithm.  The results most relevant to you may appear much farther down the results list.  Consider searching Google Scholar if you need scholarly and academic resources.

We have only just scratched the surface of Google today. Please contact the Law Society if you have any other questions.

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


  • Practice

While interest in the role and importance of leadership in law firms continues to grow and solidify, it may not yet be obvious to many when investing in such improvements should become priority. If you’re starting to wonder if your law firm needs more leadership, you may find that before you can answer your own question, you first need a better understanding of the various dimensions and implications of leadership.

So, what is leadership within the context of a law firm?

Well, there are two ways of looking at it – internally and externally. Internally refers to leading others within the firm. Externally refers to playing a leadership role with clients, referrers and the general community, outside of the firm.

Either way, to begin making an assessment about the firm’s current leadership level, start asking yourself questions about vision, engagement and reputation. To get the discussion rolling:

  • Do others follow the firm’s leaders, even when they don’t report to those individuals?
  • Do the partners, lawyers and staff feel like they have a sense of purpose?
  • Do the firm’s leaders have influence with others in the firm? Outside of the firm?
  • Can you describe the firm culture and its impact on employees and clients?
  • Is staff turnover a concern? Is client turnover a concern?
  • Are employees engaged?
  • Do people work well with each other?
  • Does the firm have a positive reputation (for its work and otherwise) with referrers and in the general marketplace?

If you conclude that your firm is lacking in any of these areas, likely it would benefit from more leadership. So, where should you begin?

There are many ways to facilitate this change. But the right way for your firm will depend on where on the organizational chart leadership is lacking. If it’s at the top, a strategic plan might be in order. If it’s needed throughout or only a priority with specific individuals (key players or managers lacking experience), a combination of mentoring, training and coaching may be the answer.

So, today’s tip? Start asking probing questions to assess if your law firm needs more leadership. If the answer is yes, begin the process of planning for change!

For reading related to leadership, see these past articles on SlawTips:

Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto


  • Research & Writing

Marginal notes (also known as head notes) are “the short notations appearing above or beside each section […] of an Act or Regulation” (Sullivan on the Construction of Statutes, 6th ed., §14.59). These notes are intended to help readers identify pertinent provisions in the legislation. The name comes from the fact that they originally appeared in the margins of legislation next to the relevant provisions.

Despite appearing in an act or regulation, marginal notes are not actually part of that legislation. Sullivan is rather disapproving of this:

“Although technically marginal notes are not considered part of legislation, in fact they are physically present and may well constitute the most frequently read component of many Acts and regulations. To ignore whatever light they shed on the meaning of legislation seems artificial and appropriate.” (§14.60)

That said, there are several cases in which marginal notes have been used for legislative interpretation (e.g. R. v. A.D.H., 2013 SCC 28) but this is not uniformly the case. For example, in Imperial Oil Ltd. v. Canada; Inco Ltd. v. Canada, 2006 SCC 46, it says at paragraph 57 “although marginal notes are not entirely devoid of usefulness, their value is limited for a court that must address a serious problem of statutory interpretation.”

Because marginal notes aren’t officially part of legislation, the process of amending them does not necessarily involve an act or regulation. For example, in British Columbia they are amended by the publications staff, not the legislature:

“On this basis, marginal notes are not amended by legislation. They are changed editorially by our publications staff in consultation with legislative counsel. This is done most commonly in conjunction with a legislative amendment to the relevant section, so that the marginal note will better reflect the content of the section.” (A Guide to Legislation and Legislative Process in British Columbia)

This leads to situations in which the only way to know if a marginal note has changed is by looking at the most recent copy of the consolidation produced by that jurisdiction’s Queen’s Printer (or equivalent).


  • Research & Writing

For those who need a brief refresher on social media (or an introduction), here is a succinct guide to the various platforms:

A photo posted by Doug Ray (@douglaswray) on

(I would spell that ‘doughnut’, though – and ‘donut eating’ should be hyphenated.)

In terms of how to post information, you might bear the following points in mind.

Choose your distribution channel appropriately
The best social media for business and professional purposes are LinkedIn and Twitter.

Use Instagram and Facebook for pics of vacations, amazing restaurant meals, your kids, the dog.

Manage your presence
If you have a social media presence that is purely personal (vacations, amazing restaurant meals etc.), that doesn’t mean it can be un-professional.

Don’t post things via a non-work account that you wouldn’t want your employer or your clients to see. Everybody has Google, and someone is bound to find those pics of you at the kegger with your pants down.

Don’t reveal confidential client information or say negative things about a client (or your employer). You should also exercise caution in speaking out on public issues that a client may have an interest in – even if this does have the effect of clipping the wings of your commentary. An ‘all views my own’ disclaimer may not be sufficient when someone is upset.

Join appropriate groups on LinkedIn.

Don’t feel you have to accept every LinkedIn connection request. There are a lot of spammers and other opportunists out there. And think about the people you do connect with: it was a bit off-putting when a professional contact of mine connected on LinkedIn (and perhaps elsewhere) with an adult film star. Similarly, adding every legal recruiter in town to your LinkedIn contacts will send a signal.

Keep it short
Twitter famously limits tweeted messages to 140 characters, although there have been rumours that this may be eased. That would be a shame: the beauty of a tweet is its very pithiness, and a word-limit imposes a healthy discipline.

Keep your posts on other platforms on the short side, too. No one is on social media to read the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and most will be looking at your update on a mobile device with a small screen.

Don’t overdo it
Regularly posting updates is an effective way to remind your friends, colleagues and clients that you haven’t fallen off the face of the earth – but no one needs minute-by-minute live-tweeting of you doing document review.

And don’t post for the sake of posting: have something meaningful to say.

Use existing content
Retweet items from trusted sources to your legion of followers. Like or repost updates on LinkedIn.

The only way to build a true personal brand, however, is to post original (and, ideally, thoughtful) content of your own.

Link appropriately
If you are saying nice things about someone, include a link to that person’s LinkedIn profile. Include that person’s Twitter handle or a hashtag with a company name or keyword.

Next time: –ee, –or

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Technology

With over 467 million users in more than 200 countries (including at least a 1 million in the law practice industry) and web traffic that ranks it as the 24th most visited site on the planet, LinkedIn is the social networking tool of choice for professionals.

Regardless of whether they trying to find new lawyer, or looking for you specifically, a Google search is one of the first things prospective clients will undertake. Along with the bio on your firm website, your LinkedIn profile is likely to be at or near the top of any Google search results. Clients will be very tempted to click on your LinkedIn profile as it will instantly tell them if they know anyone that knows you –a key factor when someone is selecting a lawyer. This makes LinkedIn a very powerful marketing tool.

Perhaps less obvious, is the power of LinkedIn as a professional networking tool. Other lawyers or professionals may use to find someone to send a referral to. It is also used for hiring purposes by law firms and recruiters. Reporters use it to identify people to interview for stories and CPD providers might find speakers for their programs.

For these reasons, you should take the plunge if you aren’t already on LinkedIn, or take a bit of time to tweak you LinkedIn presence if you are already using it. It is very easy to create and maintain a presence on LinkedIn. And, when one considers ethical obligations and other practical dangers, LinkedIn is the safest social media tool for lawyers to use.

Creating a profile
Your profile is the foundation of your LI presence. Here are some tips for creating an impressive LI profile:

DON’T list every job you ever had:
Some of you were lucky enough to have really interesting, exciting or unusual summer jobs. Good for you, but will it really impress the firm where you want a job (or a potential client when you are a lawyer)? In many cases, probably not. Include a reasonable level of detail about your work experience if you think it will impress a potential employer.

DO list other relevant or interesting background:
You should include other relevant background information in your profile. The LI profile page outlines what you should include. Give details about your college or university degrees; affiliations, articles or books you have written; awards you have won; volunteer experience and so on. Note that you can change the order of the sections on the profiles page – put the sections that highlight your strengths at the top of your profile.

DON’T use formal and dry CV-speak:
Inject a little personality to let people know more about you. Ask yourself what clients really want to learn about you.

DO make your profile public:
While your LI contacts will always see your full profile, LI allows you to selectively hide details of your profile from other LI users on the Privacy & Settings page. This defeats the purpose of being on LI. Most of you should share all or most of your profile with everyone.

DO create a LI vanity URL:
By default, your LI URL will be alpha-numeric gibberish. A LI URL that includes your name is far more friendly. You can personalize your LI URL by clicking Privacy & Settings > Privacy > Edit your public profile. I suggest you use the following:

Collecting contacts
Collecting a network of contacts is the very essence of LI. Here are some tips for building a good collection of LI contacts.

DO consider the quality, not the quantity, of your LI contacts:
We all want to be popular but ultimately, the quality of your contacts is more important than the quantity. While a high number of LI contacts may look impressive at first, potential clients will dig deeper and judge you by the details in your profile and the quality of the people in your network.

DO make it easy for people to connect with you: LI allows you to limit invitations to connect to people in a contact list or people that already know your email address
(Settings > Email Preferences). Don’t make it hard for people to connect with you. Configure LI so that anyone can send you an invitation to connect.

DON’T accept LI connection requests from people you don’t like, respect or know (personally or by reputation): Politely say “no thanks” or just ignore the invite. This can be awkward, especially when people are pesky and keep extending invites to you. Protect your reputation by making sure you like and respect the people you connect with. Don’t accept connections from total strangers.

DO be careful about conflicts of interest:
You may need to be cautious about connecting with the judges, experts or opposing counsel that might be involved with your files. Having such people as contacts might create an impression of a conflict of interest for a firm that wants to hire you.

DO send personalized contact requests:
Generic connection requests are cold and impersonal. Few things will make a stronger positive first impression than a personalized invitation to connect. This is especially helpful if the invitee may not be sure of or recall their connection to you.

DO use the “People You May Know” feature:
Look for this box on your My Networks page. It has a list of people LI thinks you might know based on contacts of your contacts. It does a good job of finding people that you will know.

DO mine the contacts lists of people you know:
Once you connect with someone in LI, you can see their list of contacts (if they have made their contact list public). As many of us work and socialize with the same smallish group of people, looking at the friends of your friends will help you find other people you know. The “Invite accepted” email is a great reminder to do this.

DO use lists of other groups of people you know:
I have had great success adding contacts by reviewing lists of names from some of the organizations I participate in (e.g. members of the Ontario Bar Association). This works well, as many LI users list the different groups they belong to or the activities they participate in.

DO use the “Search” feature to find other contacts:
Enter the names of companies or other entities where you know people to add people to your contacts list. Do remember to invite people you are connecting with in other social media channels to LI: While you will not want to add everyone you connect with in other social media tools, this will get you a few extra contacts.

DO cross-market your LI presence:
Let people know you are on LI by adding the LI logo or your LI URL to your email signature (make it a link), your business card, and anywhere else it will be visible to people that might want to connect with you.

Posting updates
Most LI users are in a mad dash to collect contacts, and they are watching other LI users do the same thing. Unfortunately, they are missing out on one of the key benefits of LI: Being visible to your contacts by sharing information with them.

DO post regular updates, but don’t overdo it. Do what is right and works for you. At the start, that might be one update a week. Over time it might grow to a single daily update or even three daily updates. Get on a regular schedule, and stick to it. Even better, post longer updates (click on “write an article”) as they get more exposure from LI.

DO share interesting ideas, news, links or information:
Strive to post updates your contacts will feel are worthy of reading. Send information that is practical, helpful, interesting or informative. On occasion, even funny things are fine.

DON’T blast all your updates out at once:
It’s great to be efficient and work on your updates at one time (e.g. first thing in the morning over your coffee), but remember that not everyone is online all the time. To give yourself greater visibility, use tools like HootSuite or TweetDeck, which allow you to schedule your LI updates for a later point in time.

DO be professional:
What goes around comes around, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in person, in print or online. Be professional at all times, because everyone is connected to everyone on the web. When using LI you must comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct at all times.

DON’T use LI messages for lawyer/client communications:
You can’t assume messages sent through LI are private. Don’t use it for lawyer/client communications. Do inject some personal info, but not too much: Social media connections are built on personal relationships. You need to share some personal information so your contacts can learn more about you. But always remember that LI is a professional network and most things that happen in Vegas, the bedroom or the kitchen are not appropriate for posting on LI.

DON’T automatically blast all your other social media updates to your LI contacts: You can and should mention content that you post on your blog or in other social media channels, but don’t bore us all by blasting everything through LI. As a filter, note that you can configure your LI account to display only tweets with the #in or #li hashtags.

How to be more visible
As I stated above, posting regular updates or writing longer posts is key to getting value from LI. But there are other simple things that you can do to give yourself greater visibility with your contacts.

DO comment on the updates your contacts post:
If you like, agree, or even disagree with something one of your contacts has posted, share your two cents by posting a comment on the original post. For reputation building, try to post comments on the updates of respected or well-connected contacts.

DO ask questions:
Social media is all about two-way communication and interactions. Asking a question in an update is a great way to engage your contacts in a discussion. And if you ask a question, make sure you read and comment on the answers!

DO tweak your profile:
By default, LI will automatically post an update every time you change your profile. You can turn this off, but I don’t think you should. Make it a habit of tweaking your profile once or twice a month.

DO join a LI group:
LI has a groups feature. Groups help people that are interested in a particular topic, entity or event find each other. There are also groups for events, associations and other entities. I guarantee there are groups on many topics relevant to your area of practice. Click on “Interests > Groups” and enter some keywords to search for groups that are of interest to you. But be warned: Some groups have far too many consultants and vendors aggressively marketing themselves.

Power user tip
For those of you that are already using LI and want to take it to a higher level, I offer the following tip:

DO look at and tweak your LI settings: I have mentioned the LI Settings and Profile configuration pages several times. Visit these pages and look at the various settings you can change. Most of you will want to go with the default settings, but you may find there are configuration options that will make LI operate in ways that are better suited to your personal preferences.

So there you have it: Some simple rules to govern your use of LinkedIn. Not only might it help you find a job, it will be a useful professional networking tool for marketing when you become a lawyer.

This post originally appeared on the AvoidAClaim blog.

Editor: Dan Pinnington


  • Practice

How is marketing a law firm different from marketing a packaged goods business? Instead of creating desire for a product, you are creating connection with people.

So, it stands to reason that the basic structure of a marketing plan that say sells detergent doesn’t quite cut it for lawyers. Aside from the obvious difference in the implementation of the plan, there’s a critical step missing. The piece that outlines how to market the individual professionals participating in the plan (whether they are speaking, writing, networking or other) is called the personal marketing plan.

  • The firm level marketing plan includes all the aspects of the plan that represent the firm as a cohesive unit, like the logo, website, business presentations, brochures, business cards, signage, stationery, company pages on social media, firm videos, newsletters… Essentially, all the elements that require a high degree of consistency and professionalism, across the board.
  • The personal level marketing plan, on the other hand, includes the specific activities of each participating individual.

While the firm and personal levels of the marketing plan are distinct steps, there are many synergies between the two. So, for example, if the individuals participating in the plan were planning to be heavy users of social media, the firm level plan could include a modern web presence, a blog, a social media strategy and a PR strategy. If, instead, participants were planning to do a lot of speaking, the firm level plan could include proposal letters, research on venues, a power point presentation and a newsletter.

The beauty of formalizing personal marketing activities (which many lawyers actually get to, but on more of an ad hoc basis), is that they create a self reinforcing loop with the firm’s marketing efforts. Individuals are set up to succeed, by way of the firm’s activities. And, in turn, when the individual lawyers succeed with their personal plans, the firm’s efforts get a boost. And so on. And so on…

For more reading on marketing plans, see these past articles on SlawTips:

Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto