All Our Research Tips
Print Legislation Remains Valuable
During a dinner table discussion of paper less practices recently, a friend praised the value of print legislation. He practices tax litigation, and I was questioning him about the various eBook versions of available in that area. He reminded me that the speed of cross referencing several sections is enhanced with the finger in book method as opposed to the click and return, especially when you have multiple sections referring to one another.
When I think about using legislation to answer a legal research question an the pattern that I used most frequently, I have to agree.
For the answer to a legislation question print often wins the day. Finding the first thread may be faster with a word search, and for sharing, electronic is clearly out front. In the race for meaning though, print is still frequently first over the finish line.
Let the debate begin.
English Translation of Cases
Lyonette Louis-Jacques posted some great strategies for finding an English translation of case law at Slaw. Today’s short legal research tip: Read Lyo’s Slaw post “How to Find Cases in English Translation, Revisited“
RSS Feeds and Links for Alberta Court Decisions
There is some rumbling from Alberta this week. The Alberta Courts are no longer publishing decisions on their website, but rather redirecting visitors to CanLII. The rumbling comes from the seeming abruptness of this move, and the worry over whether decisions will be available as quickly for browsing on CanLII as they were on the Courts website – not about the change itself.
As a process improvement professional, I am the last person who would make a negative comment about change. How a change project is executed is another matter.
Having CanLII as the primary public source for Alberta Court decisions does mean that there are a couple of things that users external to the Courts will have to do.
- Update any links to judgments that point to www.albertacourts.ca that are on your website, on your intranet pages, in your documents, or in your internal procedures and training manuals.
- Move to RSS feeds from CanLII for Alberta decisions – you can even limit your feeds by subject
A cheat for updating your links
CanLII uses a static pattern for individual case links, bless them! It follows the pattern: website/language preference/jurisdiction/neutral court reference/doc/year/neutral cite no spaces/neutral cite.html
If your old URL is
your new URL will be
There are decisions from the Alberta Courts that are not available on CanLII, so you will have to test all your links.
Plan Your Research
I have been reading in the area of Lean Six Sigma lately and have come to the conclusion that good legal research practices and good project management skills have wide overlap. An excellent article from the May 2014 issue of Quality Progress by H. F. Ken Machado titled Plan of Attack: Managing the anatomy of your key projects is fundamental to organizational success has reinforced my conclusion.
Typically, the organizations cannot afford to work on all priority requirements that demand attention. At the same time, certain projects stand out because they are fundamental to business success. For those projects, the conditions for success must be formally and fully defined.
Typically, the legal researcher cannot afford to work on all priority requirements that demand attention. At the same time, certain issues stand out because they are fundamental to client success. For those projects, the conditions for success must be formally and fully defined.
Today’s Tip: treat your legal research question like a project – plan your research. Stick to your path before you follow the side trails that are revealed as you travel. Planning your research should help you find the most time and cost effective path to answering the question.
Critical Characteristic 1 – Integrity
For the last 3 legal research tips of 2014 I decided to give my opinion of the 3 most critical personal characteristics for being a successful legal researcher. I think the most important personal characteristic is integrity.
Integrity means that you do what you promise. You are ethical, honest, decent, and appropriate. You ask for help when you need to, regardless of what your ego suggests. You are dependable. If you provide an answer, it is as correct and complete as it can possibly be and you are open about limits to your capabilities.
Integrity in answering a legal research problem means that the truth of your analysis is irreproachable. If you make a mistake, you own it. Your mistakes are never purposeful. It may be difficult to predict your ability to meet deadlines for legal research answers, so integrity means that you persist in learning skills that will help you maintain your integrity in providing correct information efficiently and effectively. Let’s face it, there is a huge amount of information and it is easier and easier to find data that can be used for an answer; integrity keeps us seeking the best answer for our client.
I think integrity is the most critical personal characteristic for legal research, and most other life questions.
May your 2015 be filled with integrity – yours and everyone you connect with as well. Happy New Year
Critical Characteristic 2 – Persistence
For the last 3 legal research tips of 2014 I decided to give my opinion of the 3 most critical personal characteristics for being a successful legal researcher. I think the second most important personal characteristic is persistence.
Persistence means that you are devoted to an activity, persevering, tenacious, dedicated, determined, unwavering. You are intent on answering the question.
If you are not persistent in answering a legal research problem, there is potential to find an answer rather than the best answer for your client. It will be easy to take the path of least resistance to an answer. Let’s face it, there is a huge amount of information that can be used to finding an answer but what we always seek is the best answer for our client.
I think persistence is a critical personal characteristic for legal research.
Next week – characteristic #1
Critical Characteristic 3 – Engagement
For the last 3 legal research tips of 2014 I have decided to give my opinion of the 3 most critical personal characteristics for being a successful legal researcher. I think the third most important personal characteristic is engagement.
Being engaged means that you are involved in an activity, committed, interested, embedded, in gear, active, diligent. You are fully focused on the task at hand.
If you are not engaged in a legal research problem, it will be difficult to harness the creativity that is necessary to see potential paths to an answer. It will also be difficult to maintain your course on a known path to an answer. Let’s face it, there is a huge amount of information that can be detrimentally distracting if you are not engaged on finding an (or the) answer to the question you are working on.
I think engagement is a critical personal characteristic for legal research.
Next week – characteristic #2
International Human Rights Day
December 10 has been celebrated as International Human Rights Day since a United Nations declaration in 1950. Today’s Tip is to remember that International Conventions may apply to domestic affairs.
United Nations material can be accessed through http://www.un.org/ and email or RSS alerts for UN documents are available.
My favourite starting point when international law intersects my legal research is a University Law Library research guide like this one from the University of Calgary.
Look to the Commonwealth
Over at Slaw yesterday I posted about JADE – a web service for locating decision from Australia that is aimed at law firm users. Today’s Tip is about when you would look to foreign decisions.
In The Comprehensive Guide to Legal Research, Writing & Analysis by Moira McCarney, Ruth Kuras and Annette Demers (Emond Montgomery, 2013), the writers remind us:
…not all legal disputes can be resolved by Canada’s domestic legal system. Foreign domestic law becomes relevant in many situations, including:
- acquiring, disposing, or bequeathing real or personal property located in a foreign jurisdiction
- incorporating in, trading with, or conducting business in a foreign jurisdiction
- banking or investing in a foreign jurisdiction
- suing or enforcing a judgment against another’s property located in a foreign jurisdiction
- resolving family issues such as child custody of and access to minor children where one parent resides in a foreign jurisdiction
The authors go on to say:
Canadian courts use the law of a foreign jurisdiction to interpret domestic law that is not yet settled. Although legislation and judicial decisions from foreign jurisdictions are not binding on Canadian courts, domestic law from Commonwealth countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, and from common-law jurisdictions such as the United States, may be used to inform Canadian courts of the development of the law in countries with domestic legal systems that are similar to that of Canada.
There you have it.
The legal research process has some basic rules. I have often articulated the analysis part of the legal research process as this:
- Your job is to answer a question
- Filter your analysis through the potential avenues of Tort, Contract, Equity, Unjust enrichment
- Make sure you look at the “bad for your client” materials and include them
- If you can’t find anything on point, make an analogy
Today’s Tip is about analogies.
How do you make an analogy? Brainstorm (alone or with a team), use a thesaurus to spark ideas, think about your past work (at the heart of it, isn’t this issue a bit like…), ask yourself what the opposite of your client’s desired outcome is and frame your research from that perspective, get creative with your legal reasoning.
Analogy is an important tool for legal reasoning. As Professor Lloyd Weinreb states in his text, Legal Reason, The Use of Analogy in Legal Argument (Cambridge University Press, 2004):
There is something distinctive about legal reasoning, which is its reliance on analogy. Leaving more precise definition for later, an analogical argument can be described as reasoning by example: finding the solution to a problem by reference to another similar problem and its solution.