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

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All Our Tips

  • Research & Writing

Did you know that you can receive instant notifications every time a new case is added to CanLII simply by subscribing to an RSS feed?  Would you like to monitor all new decisions from a particular level of court or administrative tribunal?  An RSS feed can do that for you.

RSS feeds deliver instant updates that inform you whenever a website is updated.  In CanLII’s case, they will alert you whenever a new decision is posted.

Our colleagues at the Law Society of Manitoba Library have put together an excellent guide that describes how to Create an Alert with CanLII.

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


  • Technology

Each time an electronic document comes into being, metadata is created along with it. People often add their own, too. From the obvious (like page numbers) to the obscure (like dates of creation and author names), every piece of metadata serves some purpose.

During discovery, document metadata can prove just as important as the visible contents in the document. That’s why legal teams need to comb every document for metadata. (It’s also why many use metadata “scrubbers” on documents they share with other people.)

Things can get interesting when one legal team unwittingly sends documents to opposing counsel that contain metadata they weren’t aware of. The following tips cover some of the most common “accidental” metadata disclosures. These types of disclosures don’t always happen, but they’re worth checking for in files. And if you find such metadata, disclose your finds to opposing counsel. (Be sure to check for related ethics guidance in your jurisdiction; the American Bar Association has a handy resource for checking state metadata ethics opinions here.)

Turn on Track Changes in Microsoft Office Documents

Modern document revision often happens in the margins. Well, the right margin of Word documents. That’s where authors place comments and questions, each one labeled with their Office user ID. (The “Track Changes” feature can be called different things and be in different places in other types of documents.)

When authors choose to view a document in its “final” form, that margin and its notes disappear. Doing so means they might forget to get rid of Track Changes content before sending the document on to others. If that happens, that document will travel with all commentary and suggested additions and deletions. These threads can reveal deeper thinking behind a given document and offer hints to a legal team that wasn’t supposed to see those threads.

Check Document Properties

Ever wonder who the actual author of a document happens to be? How about when the document was created? If you’re checking a photo, was it ever opened using Photoshop? You can learn all this and more by checking a document’s properties.

Look for Hidden Rows and Columns in Spreadsheets

Sometimes an author will hide rows or columns to conceal information they contain. You won’t know until you unhide them.

Spotting hidden columns or rows should be straightforward. For instance, if one column is labeled F and the next one you see is J, that means three columns have been hidden.

Check Document Headers and Footers

From author names to Bates stamps to file paths, headers and footers can contain plenty of useful information.

For instance, sometimes authors redact documents by “cutting” them down once they reach the PDF stage. You may be holding a four-page document that says, in the bottom-right corner, “Page 7 of 19.” If you see something like this, you should go “hmm …”

Look for Speaker’s Notes in PowerPoint Documents

Sometimes presentation files contain entire scripts on crammed slides in fonts only bald eagles could read. And sometimes content is kept to a minimum, interspersed with tastefully chosen images that engage the audience.

That’s what the audience sees. What the audience doesn’t see is any speaker’s notes created in the spot reserved for such notes with each slide. Short of a video or audio recording of the presentation, this user-generated metadata may provide the most insight available into what was said.

Does a PDF Contain Redacted Parts?

If you receive a redacted PDF, try this:

  • Select and copy redacted bits.
  • Paste them into a text editor like Notepad, TextEdit or Microsoft Word.

If you don’t see anything “under” the redacted parts, the PDF’s creator knows how to redact a PDF properly.

But if all the creator did was draw black lines on top of the material to be redacted, those black lines don’t carry over when the material is pasted into a text editor. Who knows what fun stuff you might learn?

Mining for More

Expect disclosures such as the ones outlined here to become less frequent as more lawyers learn how to prevent them. That said, they haven’t all learned yet, so the above tips are certainly worth trying whenever you review electronic documents during discovery.

These aren’t the only ways to look for valuable metadata in documents. Did I neglect to mention your favorite tactics? Share them in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

[This tip originally appeared on Attorney at Work]


  • Practice


Who could help me with this?

One of the biggest mistakes a lawyer can make is not asking for help.

Help can mean many things.

It can mean getting advice on a file. Many lawyers the mistake of going it alone, only to realize too late that turning to another lawyer for guidance would be the best course of action.

Help can be about forming a relationship with a senior lawyer in your practice area for support and guidance. I recently connected a junior lawyer seeking to develop a new practice area with a senior lawyer from a small firm. They are writing articles together now, and the senior lawyer is providing some valuable mentorship.

Sometimes help is getting external support on a practice challenge.  It might be that you want to improve work efficiency, or you want to get better at business development, or you are wondering if it is time to make a transition to a different firm or practice. Whatever the challenge, getting confidential assistance is the quickest path forward.  The Law Society practice advisors are there to answer your questions, and there are specialized lawyer coaches available to provide guidance.

Don’t go it alone. Whether it is simple advice on how to deal with managing clients expectations or a complex practice challenge, don’t take too long to get help. I frequently hear – I wish I had contacted you sooner – and I never hear I wish I hadn’t asked for help.

Allison Wolf (@thelawyercoach)


  • Research & Writing

The latest in a continuing series.

Next time: guidance for the reluctant legal blogger

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Practice

As a lawyer, you identify with being a professional. Strongly and consistently. Perhaps, not as much with being a business person (even if you play a leadership role at your firm)?

Most of the time, that’s just fine. Some of the time, it’s not.

If you don’t see yourself as a business person, not meeting practice goals can become frustrating:

  • We used to get a steady stream of referrals. Where have they gone?
  • We have a good reputation among our network. Why aren’t we receiving more resumes from talented recruits?
  • We hired good people. Why isn’t morale higher?…

You may need help with marketing, leadership, operations, human resource management… But you may not be sure which issue is the most pressing. Or how to even get started. Do you need to embark on a planning exercise? Hire a consultant? Bring new skills in-house?

While it may be easier to simply focus on your work and your clients, good business people know that’s simply not enough. Sometimes, you need to spend money to make money.

So, this week’s tip is about remembering that you aren’t just a lawyer. You’re also, from time-to-time, a business person. And if your firm needs some assistance, it’s your job to investigate what, how and who can help. You don’t need to have the answers all of the time. You just need to find people that do, get through that initial learning curve and set up systems that will allow you to monitor… progress!

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto


  • Research & Writing

Not hats: capital letters (or, in typographical parlance, upper case).

Don’t shout at people

When the interweb and e-mail were new, it took (some) people a while to figure out that typing your message all in caps is the typographical equivalent of shouting. Compare: please don’t forget to do this (gentle reminder) versus PLEASE DON’T FORGET TO DO THIS (angry, hectoring, perhaps a bit desperate, possibly crazy).

Used sparingly, capitals can be an effective way to express emphasis (especially if you’re not typing in HTML or rich text) – but the key word here is ‘sparingly’; if everything is emphasised, nothing is (the lawyer who cried ‘urgent’?). Or you look like you’re shouting.

 Proper names

That is, names of persons and places (Beyoncé, Tennessee), which always take an initial capital – unless done for typographical (or other) effect (the writers e.e. cummings, bpNichol and bell hooks come to mind).

 Sometimes proper names can lose their initial capital when they become disassociated with an actual place: you would not be wrong to write brussels sprout, french letter, french window, venetian blinds.


Old-fashioned usage is to go all out with capitals on these; it’s more modern to ease up (but I’m a fan of that officially capitalised T in Her Majesty The Queen).

When referring to a specific person by title, it may be better to use upper case: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, pleased welcome the Prime Minister of Canada!’

But when you’re using a job or other title as a generic description, the capitals can go: ‘When Sir John A. Macdonald was prime minister, there were less rigid rules about conflicts of interest’.

Similarly, it’s really not necessary to capitalise every routine instance of president, chair etc.  Or words like state or province, unless you’re referring to the government of the jurisdiction in a legal or technical sense: He was born in the state of Alabama but The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador has issued bonds.

It is not (or perhaps that should be NOT) necessary to use an upper-case J every time you write the title judge or justice. Yes, Justice Abella; but There are nine justices of the Supreme Court of Canada and The judge gave brief oral reasons.

In the humanities and social sciences, capitals are disappearing from titles of books and articles (except for the first word and any proper names); it’s also generally regarded as better design to omit capitals in headings and headlines (the way I have in this tip up to this point). This may yet come to the law.


Periods were once de rigueur but now may be omitted for a cleaner look: ABA, FWB, LCBO, NAFTA, MP, Mr, QC, UK, USA, WTF etc.

 Capitals for Important Words

Please resist the temptation to slap a capital letter on a word as a form of emphasis: you run the risk of what was called, in an earlier GWWT, the Winnie-the-Pooh Effect (‘I have been I have been Foolish and Deluded … and I am a Bear of No Brain at All.’).

Next: confusing pairs, part 6

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Technology

A picture is worth a thousand words, and pictures of your device’s screen are no exception. Those screen shot images can help people troubleshoot problems with your device — and help you better communicate how-to instructions as well.

Sometimes you will see people taking pictures of their device screens with their own (or other people’s) phones. Don’t do that. There’s an easier way. Instead, investigate your device’s built-in ability to take screen shots — also known as screen grabs or screen captures.

Types of Screen Captures

You can capture your device’s behavior in several different ways.

Static captures

These are simple “photos” that show your screen at the precise moment you “click the shutter” (that is, hit a keystroke or key combination, click a menu option or button, press a button). Most, if not all, computers and smartphones enable static captures out of the box.

Timed captures

Have you ever perched a camera on a tripod, hit a timer button and rushed into a group photo to be in the picture when the shutter activated? Most screen shot software offers this feature, too. It helps you bring up menus, dialogs and other graphical elements that may not appear in a static screen shot.

Video captures

Sometimes the behavior you want to show can’t be effectively captured by one static shot or a sequence of shots. That’s when you need to record a video of what happens on your screen.

Built-in Screen Shot Tools

Smartphones and tablets usually enable screen shots. For instance, on any iOS device, press the power and home buttons simultaneously. The screen flashes, the device emits the sound of a camera shutter and the picture is saved in the Photos app.

Both Windows and Mac computers ship with built-in tools. In Windows, it’s called the Snipping Tool, and on a Mac, it’s called Grab. Both Windows and Mac also feature default keystroke combinations that let you capture a segment of a screen, the whole screen or a specific window, without starting up an app.

Annotating Captures

Both systems also ship with annotation tools. Once you take a screen shot, you can add comments, arrows and shapes to it. This can be more effective than pointing out the things you want to highlight using text that accompanies the screen shot.

In Windows, the Snipping Tool itself offers an annotation interface. To do more sophisticated annotations, open Paint. On a Mac, use the Preview app. (The screen shot below shows Preview’s Annotate menu.)

Video Captures

The Mac also ships with QuickTime, which lets you perform elementary video screen capture. The Xbox app in Windows features a screen video recorder as well.

Note: Video files get large quickly, so consider using a file-sharing tool instead of email, or posting the video to a video-sharing site like YouTube.

Third-Party Screen Capture Options

I’ve used a variety of paid tools to capture software behavior to insert into documentation and, to a lesser extent, to report bugs.

Sometimes these tools enable better manipulation of screen shots than software included with the computer. They automate parts of the workflow. When you take upward of 100 screen shots a day, you appreciate having the software handle sizing, file types, file locations and other mundane chores associated with each shot.

For static and timed shots, I’ve often used Snagit ($49.95). When it comes to producing screen video that I want to narrate, Camtasia ($199) is a better option than QuickTime. TechSmith makes both tools, which range from $49 to $199 and come bundled for $224.

These paid programs don’t cost much compared to the efficiency they provide, but most legal professionals don’t need to take screen shots every day. The tools embedded in modern computing devices meet most people’s screen capture needs.

Do you have a favorite screen capture tool? Please share your tip in the comments below.

Luigi Benetton (@LuigiBenetton)

This tip originally appeared on


  • Research & Writing

As mentioned earlier this year, CanLII has been adding secondary materials to its database. If you’re looking for recent articles from Canadian law journals, CanLII now offers access to sixteen journals:

  • Alberta Law Review
  • Appeal: Review of Current Law and Law Reform
  • Canadian Bar Review
  • Canadian Journal of Comparative and Contemporary Law
  • Canadian Journal of Human Rights
  • Canadian Law Library Review
  • Canadian Parliamentary Review
  • Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies
  • LawNow Magazine
  • Manitoba Law Journal
  • McGill Journal of Dispute Resolution
  • McGill Journal of Law and Health
  • McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law
  • Ottawa Law Review
  • University of New Brunswick Law Journal
  • Windsor Yearbook on Access to Justice

In addition to these journals and the CanLII Connects commentary, CanLII has added books, newsletters, and reports and research papers.

Susannah Tredwell


  • Practice

So I belong to this listserv of mostly attorneys and everyone is talking about how they use Google for this and Google for that and all I can think is … is it just me?!  Why would anyone wish Google to be scanning and indexing their business records and documents – let alone a bunch of attorneys?

*start of rant*

Of course, you KNOW – any time your data touches a Google server it is being scanned and indexed. Right?

Seriously – you are giving every keystroke/word <-as best as speech recognition can figure out the words I imagine – to Google just by using it.  Oh and Google = not just search but, of course, gmail, chrome, anything done on a chromebook.  All are collection points.  Google was built to scan/index and it’s doing that to your and your clients’ info.

As for those using Google Voice – are you sure you’re getting all your calls?  Who are you going to call if you realize, 3 days later, that your phone has stopped ringing??  See – it’s not when tech works that you have to worry – it’s when it doesn’t.  Pay the $20 per month to have a business VoIP line or use unified messaging to work your cell as a business AND personal mobile device and stop using a free service, especially Google, for everything!

*Jumps off soapbox*

Note: the above is much more amusing when you read it like Edna Mode , dahling! #justsayin

Andrea Cannavina (@AndreaCan) helps law firms organize, automate and implement business process improvements to create efficient workflows and happier staff. 


  • Research & Writing

There is a distinct love-hate relationship between the English and French languages. We’ve borrowed a lot from the French over the years, with mixed results.

All of this goes back a long way (1066, and all that), but shows no sign of abating.

French words we’ve more or less naturalised

There are some borrowings from French that we don’t even think about, because they’ve become fully anglicised, sometimes with changes in spelling: apartment, baton, hotel, parliament.

Sometimes we try to make anglicised French words more French again, for example when we pronounce niche like NEESH, instead of the acclimatised (and perfectly correct) pronunciation NITCH.

Other French words are still in transition, although it appears to be a losing battle to keep the final French –me in program(me). There may be hope yet for manoeuvre against the tide of maneuver.

Accents disappear readily, but not always. A good example is the French-derived word for CV: is it résumé (which would be the correct spelling in French) or resumé (which is common in English)? The pedant in me prefers the former, even though that runs the risk of looking … well … pedantic. So I avoid the issue and just say CV.

Debris is also neither fully English nor French: the E has generally lost its accent, but (as in French) we don’t pronounce the final S.

French expressions which don’t really have an exact English equivalent

Can you come up with pithy English equivalents for je ne sais quoi, joie de vivre, sang-froid, savoir-faire and après-ski?

Keeping one’s cool, perhaps; but know-how isn’t quite the same as savoir-faire – it lacks that certain something?

French expressions which will make you sound pretentious

Basically anything that already has a serviceable and well-established English equivalent.

French expressions which the French don’t really use

And then there is that category of words and phrases used in English and derived from French, but which the French don’t really, actually use. At all. Ever. Some examples follow.

Au jus: Your humble scribe has yet to see this on a menu in France. (And please, don’t say with au jus; au means ‘with’.)

Au naturel: This just means ‘plain, unadorned’ to the French. They say nu (‘naked’) when they mean ‘naked’.

 Brunette: A woman with brown hair is brune or une brune.

Décolletage: One would talk about a woman’s décolleté in French (if one mentioned it at all).

Double entendre: A French person would say double entente or sous-entendu.

Duvet: To a French speaker, this is just the down that fills the quilt, not the quilt itself – which is a couette.

Encore: The French don’t shout this after particularly good performances: they call out bis! (‘repeat’).

Ensuite: This doesn’t mean an adjoining bathroom to a French person; it just mean ‘then’. For the room, say something like salle de bain attenante.

Rapport: In French, ‘a connection’ with someone, whether good or bad; to convey the positive sense this word has in English it would be necessary to say un bon rapport.

Résumé: The French use this, but only to mean ‘summary’; the biographical document is a curriculum vitae.

Risqué: Merely ‘risky’ to the French. For ‘slightly daring or scandalous’, you’d want to say osé.

Not suggesting you use the genuinely French versions of these now-English expressions, however, because the versions we use are so entrenched in English that you’d attract funny looks for trying to be more authentically Gallic.

If it’s any consolation, the French use ‘English’ words that look nothing short of outlandish to us, like le people (celebrities, the beau monde) or even un people (a celebrity); un brushing (blow-dry); un pressing (dry-cleaning); un relooking (make-over) and se faire relooker (to get a make-over); un basket (sports shoe); talkie-walkie (walkie-talkie) – amongst many others. For further reference, see C. Furiassi & H. Gottlieb, Pseudo-English: Studies in False Anglicisms in Europe (2015).

Next time: CAPS

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)