All Our Research Tips
Yesterday at Slaw, I wrote about preparedness. Today’s Tip is to be perfectly prepared before you start your legal research question. I think that there are two steps to perfect legal research preparedness. Please comment if you agree or disagree!
Preparedness Step 1 – Understand the question.
- put the question in context by review text books, loose-leaf services (or – my preference – eBooks that started out as loose-leaf services) and other secondary sources of words you should be using
- check for legislation by reviewing the footnotes of those secondary sources
- look for key cases referenced in those same footnotes
Preparedness Step 2 – Use the right search language
- Place the output of step 1 in your legal research memo so that you have everything ready for writing
- You will have to find the current law on the topic, so, write out your search in advance (keep it in the memo so you can copy and paste into the search boxes you are using on various sites
Legislative History in Case Law
I was reminded that sometimes you can find a decent review of the history of a piece of legisaltion within written decisions. For instance, a discussion of the Election Act for Alberta was published in Engel v Alberta (Executive Council), 2015 ABQB 226 and includes a bit of legislative history.
Point, Click, Hover, Interact
Today’s Tip is about interacting with your research world.
We are involved in an increasingly complex universe of data that has increasingly complex functionality. In order to get the most out of what is in front of you I suggest that you engage with the data. Mouse over text and images; set your browser status bar to visible so that you can read the URLs that hyperlinks will send you to; watch for functionality hint pop up text; in short – interact.
The print version of this is following the footnotes, index, table of contents, table of cases or statutes, adding sticky flags, making notes, and highlighting. In short, interacting with the research world.
You may find something neat. You may learn something new. You will be engaged.
Related post: Read the Screen
Law Reform Publications for Research
Yesterday at Slaw, I posted about the Alberta Law Reform Institute Final Report 106 Assisted Reproduction After Death: Parentage and Implications.
Today’s Tip is a reminder to look to law commission reports when researching items that touch on public policy. As Michel-Adrien Sheppard wrote in a 2013 Slaw post, these reports have hidden treasures:
There is always a chance that a law commission has looked at a legal issue you may be working on. Slaw.ca collaborator Ted Tjaden has a section on how to find law reform commission reports on his legal research writing website.
We live in a world where it is generally acknowledge that even though many web services that we use have terms of service, nobody reads them. Stop that bad habit right now. Especially for fee based legal research services. Do you understand what you have agreed to when you use WestlawNext Canada or LexisNexis Quicklaw?
By highlighting this as Today’s Tip I am NOT suggesting that fee based research services are inherently bad – I believe the opposite – I would not want to perform legal research for clients without a subscription to a fee based research service that delivers excellent value added content to my screen.
Today’s Tip IS intended to remind every searcher (not just the law librarians) to understand the license agreements so that they adhere to the terms. Most often, your firm’s law librarian will hit the highlights during training. The WestlawNext Canada License Agreement and LexisNexis Quicklaw Terms & Conditions are available from the sign on pages.
Users remain responsible for checking whether the intended use of the documents is authorized.
Knowledge is security – seek it out.
Watch for Edits of Not Yet in Force Acts
Once in a while a legislature will pass an act and then make amendments to it before it comes in to force. Just when you think you have everything figured out….
An example of this from Alberta is referenced in CanLII as Education Act, SA 2012, c E-0.3 , [Not yet in force] along with Bill 19 the Education Amendment Act, 2015 introduced yesterday in the Alberta legislature.
Today’s Tip: IF an applicable statue is not yet in force check for amendments to it.
Once Bill 19 passes (fairly obvious for a majority government unless an election is called before the progress of this bill is complete), you would see references for pending amendments to pending acts in the Table of Public Statutes. Look to the legislative assembly or parliament websites for bills in progress too.
These and other intricacies of legislative research questions may lead you to delegate this type of picky, tricky work to your favourite law librarian. There is no shame in that choice!
A fantastic post by Marc Lauritsen that came my way via the Attorney at Work Daily Dispatch inspired Today’s Tip. Marc’s post asked readers to think about recent decisions they helped make and whether they did a good job of choosing.
Choices are part of every aspect and many, many moments of every day. In terms of legal research, deliberate choice should be a decision point that you make with each research question, each search string, and most importantly when planning your research path.
As Marc suggests:
Be mindful when you find yourself facing a choice. Don’t just think about what you’re choosing; think about how you’re choosing.
Recognize that a choice is a project. You’ll improve your chances of a good result if you plan and manage it as such.
I have written here before about habits in choosing sources and habits in the way you use specific tools, but I like the way Marc articulates choice in his post.
Is That Code Current?
A hat tip to Sandi Madvid, Supervisor of Edmonton Library Services for Parlee McLaws LLP for Today’s Tip. Sandi shared that the Alberta Building Code 2014 and the Alberta Fire Code 2014 will be in force on May 1, 2015. Considering my husband is a carpenter and uses the Building Code, I am surprised I didn’t known this was coming!
Some Canadian jurisdictions (including Alberta, obviously) model region specific codes on the National Building Code of Canada. Building Codes are usually only available for purchase and most (but not all) are available by subscription to an electronic version.
The Building Code Regulation in Alberta contains only the authorization that the codes is in effect and does not contain the text of the code. According to the nice lady I called at Municipal Affairs, the new Alberta codes will
only be available from the National Research Council on May 1, 2015.
Because building and other Codes may not be Googavailable in full text, Today’s Tip is to cast a wide investigative net to make sure you are looking at the correct code for the currency date you need.
Where Did You Get That Last Time?
This tip was inspired after answering a question from memory that I should have documented back in 2009.
As legal researchers, we find nuggets of useful information from sources that are both transparent and obscure. Transparent because they are the logical source of the information we seek and obscure in that if we hadn’t connected with exactly the right person at the exactly right time we would not necessarily have found the information in the form or with the context that we did.
Document your sources in detail. Don’t trust that your memory will be available (or working properly) in the moment that the details about past research need to be unearthed. There is nothing wrong with a memo to file (or to your general research tips file that you share with colleagues) about how you found something.
A snippet of Ani DiFranco song lyric “Each breath is recycled from someone else’s lungs” could be rescripted for legal research this way, “Each question’s recycled at some point or another”. Make your future work easier by documenting today’s details.
Understand What You Are Asking For
I am having a wonderful time in Maui this week with my family. Today’s Tip is inspired by my Aunt Betty who reminded me that it is important that OTHER PEOPLE know what you are asking for.
You may know that the Hawaiian language uses fewer letters than English. I confess to being completely baffled by local pronunciation. Betty, on the other hand has visited this beautiful part of the world several times, and has mastered the phonetic discrepancies that twist my tongue.
This is the root of it:
a is always ahhhh
e is the long A
i is eee
o is oh
u is oooo
When asking for directions to somewhere, you don’t want to be misunderstood and sent to the wrong town.
Just like legal research! If you don’t understand what you are looking for, you will ask databases (or partners) for search results that don’t match what you really need.
Today’s second tip, don’t get so excited by seeing fishes in nature that you swim on your back while snorkeling.