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

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All Our Tips

  • Research & Writing

Researching employment law?  You will be excited to learn about a new employment law resource,  Designed to be used by lawyers and self-represented litigants, this tool enables you to quickly and easily identify reasonable notice periods for termination and dismissal.

Specifically, the tool allows you to locate cases that have applied the Bardal factors.  What are these factors exactly?  The factors come from the 1960 decision Bardal v. Globe & Mail Ltd. (1960), 24 DLR (2d) 140.  They include age, length of employment, character of employment, and availability of similar employment.  According to the website, the factors:

Represent the starting point in determining reasonable notice.  And since there are over 1,000 rulings from Canadian courts expressly laying out precisely how the factors were applied, everyone – from employment lawyers to employers to employees – can look through the rulings and form a pretty good guess of how a court might rule.

However, cautions that employment law is very complex and the factors are only a basic starting point for determining legal entitlement to notice.  More research is always needed.  The tool is still under development and is available in beta.

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


  • Research & Writing

If I had a dollar for every time he’s heard Good, thanks – and you? in response to How are you?, I’d be writing this from a villa in Tuscany. (Or not writing it all, just sipping Negronis on a deck-chair by the pool.)

The grammatically correct response to how are you? is well, not good. Good traditionally refers to a moral, not a physical or mental, state. I’m good really ought to be confined to situations where you mean you are virtuous, good at something or well-behaved. (And not as a way of saying ‘no, thank you’ to an offer of food or drink.)

Well is both an adjective and an adverb; good is only ever an adjective (or a noun), and therefore it can’t modify a verb.

So, We did good means we effected works of charity and the like, rather than we did a good job. For that, you mean We did well, unless you want to be what Bryan Garner calls ‘unrefined’.

But this appears to be a losing battle: pass me another Negroni.

The battle is entirely lost with the verb to look. Classically, one would have said That colour looks well on you – but you would attract uncomprehending looks if you said that now.

There is still time to win the adverbial battle with constructions like Travel safe or drive clean. Safely and cleanly, please: it’s how you travel or drive, which demands an adverb to modify the verb. (Although drive clean is possibly justifiable if you mean clean as an adjective that describes a drug-free driver.)

Sometimes good is the right choice, however: with taste and smell, for example (where good isn’t so much an adverb as an adjective describing whatever is being sampled). You would use well if you were referring, though, to an expert wine-taster’s skill at sniffing and sipping.

Feel is trickier. Many insist that it’s OK to say I felt bad about having to fire her, but traditionally it’s badly. James Brown may have said I feel good! (and I wouldn’t change that song for all the Negronis in the world), but grammatically it should be well (even if that could also suggest feeling well in the groping sense). We still say I don’t feel well when we’re ill.

Robert Warren Fiske sums it up in his Dictionary of Unendurable English (2011): ‘People who use good where well should be are soulless speakers, hopeless writers.’

Next time: navigating social media

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Technology

  • I know it can be done in Word (or Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote). I’ve done it before but I don’t remember how or where it is on the menu.
  • I know it is there, but I don’t have time to look. I need to get this done now.
  • The instructions say look for Picture Tools, look for format tab, and click…. Where is everything? Seriously…

If you have ever been in any of the above situations, read on. There is a great feature for you in Office 2016. “Tell me what you want to do” (also known as Tell Me Assistant) is a handy tool available in Microsoft Office 2016.

Context-sensitive help has been around for a very long time and most people are familiar with it. Tell Me Assistant takes it one step further. Simply type what you want to do in the Tell Me Assistant box. Instead of getting instructions on how to do something, Tell Me Assistant shows you the menu required to get the job done. As you type into the Tell Me box, Tell Me Assistant will provide a list of suggestions. Click on the one you need and you get the menu immediately. If the task requires further selection of options, they will be provided on a flyout menu. No more looking for menu items on the ribbon or following lengthy instructions.

Expert users of Office who know their keyboard shortcuts by heart may find the Tell Me Assistant redundant if not downright irritating like Clippy the Office Assistant (Office 97 to 2003). Admittedly typing Alt-Ctrl-c to insert a copyright symbol is a lot faster, if you remember the shortcuts. But for the rest of us, Tell Me Assistant is a time saver. And let’s not forget those times when you are on the road with a mobile device and no external keyboard.

Below are a few examples:

Insert £, €, ©, ®, and other symbols (Word)

Put your mouse where you want the symbol to appear. Type symbol into the Tell Me Assistant box. Pick the symbol you need and voilà, it’s done. By the way, I used Tell Me Assistant to insert the à in voilà.

Text Box (Word)

Highlight the text to be put in a text box, type text box in the Tell Me Assistant box.

Click and drag the handles to resize the text box and click on the Layout Option icon on the top right corner for text wrapping options.

Page Number (Word)

Type page number into the Tell Me Assistant box, choose the position and format of page number on the flyout menu.

Pivot Table (Excel)

Here’s my all-time favourite. Highlight table cells, type pivot table in the Tell Me Assistant box.

and here you are with a pivoted table:

Here are a few more of my favourites. Give it a try.

  • Footnote
  • Table of contents
  • Change case
  • Link
  • Bookmark
  • Cross-reference
  • Margin

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


  • Practice

This is especially important if you run a firm where your income varies significantly from one month to the next, such as personal injury and other litigation practices.

I have seen lawyers run into trouble when they didn’t meet regularly with their Bookeeper and organize themselves to make quarterly GST payments. All of a sudden a large bill comes from CRA that was not necessarily on the budget for the month and compromises cash flow.

It’s also important to stay on top of and track personal versus business expenses monthly to ensure the business is taking advantage of all deductions available. In particular, if there is not a dedicated company credit card and the owner manager has to remember all of the expenses that were personal and business later in the year.  This can be time consuming and very tricky!

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)


  • Research & Writing

This tip was suggested by Marnie Bailey of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP.

Unlike the vast majority of Canadian regulations, you can’t find a consolidated version of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Regulations on the federal Justice Laws website; instead the Justice Laws website refers you to Transport Canada’s website. While Transport Canada has a copy of the current consolidated version, it does not make previous versions available on its website, so what is a law librarian to do? Head to the Wayback Machine of course!

There is a lovely capture of how the Regulation read right before a major 2016 amendment; this removed a frequently referred to table from part 8.1.

Marnie Bailey


  • Practice

In this sixth post of a series inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the depressed client. The depressed client can come in various degrees, from being sad all the time to suicidal ideation. If the client’s life is in danger, remember that you are not the client’s therapist. Refer the client to help, such as a family physician, therapist, social services, or other community services.

When taking instructions from a depressed client, document clearly what you have communicated and what the instructions are. Confirm afterward – perhaps waiting several days if possible – that the instructions have not changed. If you have made recommendations that the client does not want to follow, which can happen if the depressed client is unwilling to take risks, however sensible, then make sure you have documented the exchange by email or letter.

A depressed client can also be slow to take action. In this case it may be worthwhile to schedule in-home visits or make phone calls at various times. The client may decline a phone call the first time, but take it at another, when the mood has lifted. In most cases, calm persistence can eventually lead to a successful lawyer-client relationship. At the same time, if you simply cannot get instructions in a timely manner, consider ending the retainer.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


  • Research & Writing

You knew this would come up sooner or later.

The simple rule is that who is a subject (Who said that?), whom is an object (To whom is that letter addressed?). The verb to be, you will remember, takes a subjective completion (who) rather than an object (whom).

But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

First, who has largely displaced whom in common usage, to the point where the Oxford English Dictionary admits that it is ‘no longer current in natural colloquial speech’. As a result, one usually hears It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That really should be whom you know (of course), because you need an object for you know.

On the other hand, people sometimes use whom incorrectly because they think it sounds classier: I’ve actually heard May I ask whom is calling? from someone on the other end of the telephone. And those of a certain vintage may know the line from ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ (1982) by The Clash: ‘Exactly whom I’m supposed to be’. Great song, terrible grammar.

Who and whom can also be what’s called relative pronouns: the man who mistook his wife for a hat but the lawyer whom time forgot. Here again, the subject-object distinction governs.

Another complicating point is that whether it’s who or whom depends on the surrounding words. It’s correct to say I’ll talk to whomever but not I’ll talk to whomever will listen. In the second example, that whomever is wrong because you need a subject for the will listen bit – and that has to be whoever. Similarly, it’s Whomever we hire will work hard rather than Whoever … because you need an object for we hire.

Confused? Take comfort in the fact that Shakespeare got it wrong when he wrote Young Ferdinand, whom they say is drowned – as did the King James translators of the Bible with But whom say ye that I am?  These examples can be readily fixed if you prune the excess words to get at the core of the sentence: in the example from The Tempest, they say is merely a parenthetical remark, the core being Ferdinand, who is drowned; and the verse from Matthew is, essentially, But who am I?

And while we’re on the subject, don’t confuse who’s and whose.  Who’s is short for who is, as in Who’s who?  Whose, on the other hand, is a relative pronoun: Whose book is this?

(And it’s not Who’s whom? – again because the verb to be takes a subjective completion (who, in this instance) rather than an object.)

Week after next: all well and good

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Practice

In this fifth post, inspired from Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client (written when she was a lawyer), we take a look at how to handle the dishonest client. There are different degrees to which a client can be dishonest. On one end are clients who may tell half-truths or who conceal facts from you, and on the other are clients who maliciously lie to you. It isn’t often clear whether the intention is malicious or if the untold truth can come back to hurt you or your client at a later date.

Outright lies can be a good reason to terminate the relationship. It may signal a lack of trust between you and the client that cannot be repaired. If you make misrepresentations on behalf your client, the danger arises if you knew or should have known about the misrepresentation. A client that is lying may be using you for malicious reasons – avoid this client at all costs.

That said, there are sometimes excusable reasons a client can lie. A personal injury client may not recall his or her previous injuries very well. A small incident leading to pain and a visit to the family doctor can be forgotten years down the line if it resolved quickly. Similar seemingly innocuous incidents can easily be forgotten or re-interpreted as time goes on. For this reason, it is important in such files to order medical records (the third most common source of malpractice claims in civil litigation, and over all practice areas, is inadequate investigation).

Once obtained, meet with the client, go over your notes documenting what your client told you, and review with the client the medical record which contradicts the client’s account. These kinds of lies are not necessarily malicious and may simply indicate that the client needs to be sure about certain aspects of the file, and that words should be more carefully chosen (“That has never happened to me” vs. “If it happened, it’s been rare”.

Another reason a client may be unwilling to tell you everything is cultural. If the client comes from a culture where encounters with lawyers and “the system” are negative, the client may see you more as an obstacle and necessary evil than as someone who is there to help. The client may think there is something to hide, when in fact it is better to disclose to you. In this case it may take time to build trust, and patience may be rewarded.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


  • Research & Writing

Each month, the University of Saskatchewan’s Native Law Centre blog features a Case Watch.    The Case Watch is a newsletter of digested aboriginal case law.  It covers all aspects of aboriginal case law including title, rights and Gladue factors.  It is a collaboration of the Native Law Centre and Pro Bono Students Canada – University of Saskatchewan Chapter.

If you are a practitioner of aboriginal law or you closely follow this area of law, we strongly encourage you to check out Case Watch!

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


  • Research & Writing

The word hyphen comes from the Greek for together, which reflects the hyphen’s function as a connector. Dash is descriptive: it’s a bold stroke of punctuation, which can hive things off from each other as well as connect otherwise disparate elements.

The hyphen as connector
English, like German, likes to combine two or more words into one. The Germans just shove them all together, stringing a series of words into one long chain (Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz apparently being the longest; it means ‘beef-labelling supervision duties delegation law’, formerly in the statute book of the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, but now since repealed).

In English, the tendency is to hyphenate compounds, at least initially. When people started to talk about holders of shares a lot, it made sense to make a compound: share-holder. Later (as often happens), the hyphen disappeared and left us with shareholder. Hyphens are also disappearing from words like vice-president, but leaving two words (vice president) rather than one. Fowler’s Modern English Usage says this is actually OK – but doesn’t vice chair sound a bit naughty?

The hyphen tends to stay, however, where its disappearance would leave a pile-up of letters that don’t naturally go together in English or which suggest a weird pronunciation: security-holder and loop-hole are preferable to their hyphen-less versions. Co-operative is better than cooperative for that reason, but unco-operative does admittedly look a bit odd (and gets a red wavy line under it when typed on the screen – not that one should pay unquestioning heed to that). The New Yorker has tried for years to get people to write coöperative, but nobody is buying it.

Hyphens are usual in compound adjectives: pea-green boat, 20-year-old whisky, end-of-year review, red-hot chili peppers (a shame it’s too late to educate Anthony Kiedis about the hyphen). Not using a hyphen can lead to confusion: are you getting extra marital sex or extra-marital sex? Where the first element in a compound adjective is an adverb, the hyphen sometimes disappears:  a well-deserved vacation BUT (probably) a soundly argued factum. The rules on that last point are murky; be guided by common-sense.

I’m of two minds about constructions like second- and third-hand information. Fowler’s Modern English Usage (the Bible for these things) suggests that the first hyphen can go (and may be better from a stylistic perspective than the alternative second-hand and third-hand information). There may be times when you’d want to keep it, though, for the sake of clarity: the meaning changes if you drop the first hyphen in This book is intended for the ill- and well-educated.

Another common use of the hyphen is for compound surnames. This used to be a posh thing, where the surname of a wife or relation was added in order to inherit that person’s property (the most elaborate example is Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville). It’s now an egalitarian thing, so kids get both their parents’ names. Sometimes the hyphen is omitted in these formations, which can lead to confusion: is that a middle name or part of the family name?

The dash
The dash has many uses, and as many—or more—misuses. Chief among the uses is to add a parenthetical phrase in the middle of a sentence, by way of explanation or for emphasis. If you hadn’t noticed, there is an example of in the opening sentence of this section. You can also do it at the end of a sentence, for emphasis—as I’ve just done now. Go easy, though: too much emphasis de-emphasises.

A bit of typography
The hyphen is one short stroke, like so: –

There are two types of dash: the ’em’ dash (—)and the ‘en’ (–), so-called by printers because they are the length of the bits of metal type used for printing the letters M and N respectively. (They are also called the long and the short dash.)

For purists, the en dash is used to separate date ranges (18371901) and connected or contrasted pairs of words (the North­South divide). The em dash is reserved for breaks in sentences. There should be no space on either side of a dash.

In the days of the manual typewriter, the em dash was rendered with three hyphens (—), the en with two (–). Typography nerds decry the continuation of this practice in the digital era, but you may have to resort to the ‘special characters’ menu to get the em dash, or figure out some combination of option and shift keys (which eludes me). In common usage, most people use a hyphen for date ranges and word-pairs, an en dash for sentence-breaks (your computer will generally convert two hyphens into the latter).

Next: who and whom

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)