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Canadiana Online’s unparalleled online collection of historical materials is now free to access. The collection, available at no charge at, contains more than 60 million digitized pages of books, periodicals, and government publications from early Canadian history. 

Why should lawyers and legal researchers take note of this thrilling development? Canadiana Online features an outstanding collection of historical statutes, bills, legal journals, and law reports. Some examples include:   

Legal researchers should take advantage of the wealth of legal resources available freely online here.  Canadian Online offers a simple search interface with search tips. Search results can be narrowed by multiple search filters and subject headings.       

Sources Cited

Ross, R. (2018, November 15). Over 60 Million Pages of Digitized Canadian Documentary Heritage Soon To Be Available At No Charge. Retrieved from:  

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


Grumpy Baby-boomers will oft have cause to make exclamations like this (but they may phrase it in less polite language). Or they may have no cause at all, but exclaim anyway.

One thing that is sure to raise the ire of older professionals is casual language in e-mails.

On this point, the Boomers are not wrong: and certainly the very casual style of the text message has no place in professional correspondence, even when it’s digital. Srsly.

That said, at least two of the abbreviations beloved of texting millennials have an older provenance than you might imagine.

IDK, short for ‘I don’t know’, turns out to be US military slang from the First World War. The News Courier of Athens, Alabama reported on 17 August 1918 that IDK was ‘the latest American soldier slang … which stands for “I don’t know” in reply to fool questions asked by recruits and men who have just been landed.’ Or perhaps by partners in law firms.

OMG (‘Oh, my God/gosh!’) is of roughly the same vintage, having been used by Admiral Lord Fisher in a letter to Winston Churchill (then Minister of Munitions) on 9 September 1917. While the admiral explained that it stood for ‘Oh! My God!’, he was using it as a short form for a fanciful new order of knighthood, jokingly modelled on the existing Order of St Michael and St George (the grades of which are abbreviated CMG, KCMG and GCMG). So, not quite how the kids are using it now.

Even if IDK and OMG pre-date the Boomers by a long way, you still shouldn’t use them (or WTF, LMAO, LOL and the like) in your business e-mail.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Tweets, like text messages, are often composed on the fly (as we know from painful experience emanating from the country to the south).

This, plus their brevity and informality, may sometimes excuse lapses in grammar, spelling and punctuation.

One apostrophe error in an isolated tweet could just be a typo, but when a managing partner of a Toronto firm (which shall remain nameless) tweets these within the space of 24 hours, there is clearly a larger issue:

·         Lets roll even higher in 2020

·         Hat’s off to the workers

·         Hows this one …

Remedial training is available, managing partner! Or buy a copy of my book 😉

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


A holiday treat for those of us who carry out British Columbia legal research: BC Laws has just added historical BC annual statutes dating back to 1858. You can find them at Up until now, BC’s annual statutes were not available freely online in any format.

Susannah Tredwell


You may have seen the news that John Richards, the founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, has decided to call it quits after 18 years of fighting for the correct use of the troublesome punctuation mark.

Part of the reason is that Richards, a retired journalist, is 96 and needs to scale back his activities.

But he also feels that ‘ignorance and laziness have won’, his efforts over the years having proved so much tilting at windmills.

He may have a point: my phone’s autocorrect feature assumes that its must always be it’s, and I routinely encounter things like keeping up with the Jones’ and Closed Monday’s.

With John Richards’s retirement, the apostrophe lacks protection.

Does it matter? It can.

There was heated debate in Ghana earlier this year over the name of a new holiday celebrating the country’s path to independence. Was it to be Founder’s Day or Founders’ Day?

The first would have focused attention on Ghana’s first post-colonial leader, Kwame Nkrumah; the second, on the broader movement that brought about independence.

One small mark has the power, if used correctly, to honour an entire generation.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


The old, Darwinian rule for associates was ‘up or out’, meaning that if you weren’t going to be asked to join the partnership, you’d be more or less politely shown the door.

Some firms still do it that way, but not all. Terminology varies, but the most common term in my neck of the woods for someone who’ll never have a corner office is Senior Associate.

Counsel is also used for associates not on the partner track, but also for lawyers past retirement age but still profitable or prestigious enough to keep on board. Counsel is also used for senior lateral hires who are not immediately made partners, although that often follows after a sort of probationary period.

In the US, there is a wider variety of nomenclature. The grey-haired types are described as being Of Counsel, which has been turned into an unfortunate bastard noun (‘We have six distinguished Of Counsels at our firm’). For associates who aren’t on the partner track, these titles are apparently seen on US business cards:

  • Career Associate
  • Permanent Associate
  • Staff Attorney
  • Practice Group Attorney
  • Department Attorney
  • Team Attorney
  • Innovative Staffing Attorney
  • Agile Counsel

The last two sound bizarre: don’t you want all your lawyers to be agile, at least mentally? and is every other job assignment unimaginative? Career Associate and Permanent Associate are descriptive but a bit tragic (career-limited, stuck in a rut) – and Permanent may imply a level of job security which no associate should expect. Staff Attorney suggests in-house counsel to me, but maybe that’s the idea. The others have a Knowledge Management feel to them, but that may accurately reflect the work this type of lawyer ends up doing. In the UK, this would be a Professional Support Lawyer or PSL, in Canada a KM Lawyer (if not a Senior Associate). In light of that KM-ish category, Agile Counsel may refer to Agile, the project-management process, rather than agile (the normal adjective). That makes a bit more sense, but as a job description it would baffle all but initiates…

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


This cautionary note was included (in red, boldface type!) in one of the e-mail notices that go round at my firm, notifying lawyers of prospective clients and asking if there would be any conflicts in acting for them.

Some matters may be more sensitive or interesting or salacious or newsworthy than others, but as a matter of law and legal ethics they can’t be more (or less) confidential.

As lawyers we owe the same duty of confidentiality to each client, and the standard is as high as it gets.

As a matter of English grammar, the very confidential warning is as bad as it gets. It’s like saying something is very unique. It’s unique (or confidential) or it isn’t. These adjectives are absolutes.

Or, as a partner once said to me of a research task, ‘This is somewhat urgent’. I was about to reply, ‘Oh, so it isn’t urgent’, but, anticipating a sense-of-humour failure, kept quiet and just got on with the job.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Thanks to Jason Wong of McCarthy Tétrault LLP for the inspiration for this tip.

The Privy Council Office has created an online database that allows users to search for federal Orders in Council (OICs) made between 1990 and the present. 

If you cannot retrieve your OIC from the database, you can request it by emailing the Privy Council Office directly at If the OIC is available, it will be emailed directly to you (usually within one working day); if not available, you will have to check with Library and Archives Canada (LAC). 

LAC has digitized microfilm copies of orders in council from 1867 to 1916. You can search the Orders-in-Council database by going to

If your Order in Council is available neither from the Privy Council Office nor through the database you will have to contact LAC directly to get a copy.

Susannah Tredwell


My discovery of Richard Wydick’s Plain Language for Lawyers was serendipitous.

I had started sending out weekly writing tips by e-mail at my firm and was in constant need of new material (and I still am).

Someone on my street had left a box of books at the kerbside, for passers-by to take what appealed to them. On the top of the pile was the fifth edition of Wydick’s excellent book.

Its messages are simple and important:

  • omit surplus words
  • use base verbs, not nominalisations
  • prefer the active voice
  • use short sentences
  • arrange your words with care
  • choose your words with care
  • avoid elegant quirks
  • punctuate carefully

Richard Wydick died in 2016, and I was very grateful to receive permission from his family and publisher to quote from the fifth edition in my own book on legal writing (which collected those weekly emails).

A sixth edition of Plain Language for Lawyers has now appeared thanks to Amy E. Sloan of the Baltimore School of Law.

It preserves the basic structure and ‘classic features’ of the 5th, but adds a new chapter on document design, updates to some of the material and new exercises.

Recommended reading for all legal writers. And if you can’t find a free copy among a neighbour’s discards, it’s only US$25 from Carolina Academic Press.

I’m not leaving either edition by the side of the road.

And I’m hoping I can cite Wydick 6th in the second edition of Guthrie’s Guide.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


I used to work with someone who might fairly be described as curmudgeonly.

This person detests people who reply to an e-mail with a one-word Thanks.

Needless replies are a bit annoying, but it’s also hard to know when to terminate an e-mail exchange.

The advice I give to law students in my seminar on e-mail in a professional setting is to err on the side of politeness, especially in relation to more senior peeps.

Even at the risk of irritating a curmudgeon.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)