All Our Research Tips
Crowdsourcing Tribunal Decision Sources
A question and some answers came across the CALL-L listserv this week about sources for BC Utilities Commission Decisions. Like some other tribunals, the commission decisions are not available for searching on CanLII, LexisNexis Quicklaw
or Westlaw Next Canada. There is a basic index function on the Commission website, but it was not adequate for the needs of the person posting the question.
Today’s Tip is thanks to the members of the CALL-L list who shared their knowledge with the crowd.
Anne Whelan of Mercer shared British Columbia Utilities Commission Online Document Library – a source that reports it is “currently being reorganized and updated”.
Jennifer McNenly of Fasken Martineau shared this useful tip:
You can try a Google site search on the decisions folder as per my example below. But you should also browse by year prior to 1980. Those early decisions are just referenced and the electronic decision is not actually on the site.
Lists like CALL-L and others are excellent avenues to learn from the experiences of others. Do you crowdsource Sources?
Update Note: I learned at some of the British Columbia Utilities Commission decisions (304 of them at a recent count) ARE available with WestlawNext Canada. Thanks to Carswell Reference Support for adding their information to the crowd!
Reflect Before You Act
Movie enthusiasts may recognize that the title of Today’s Tip is a quote from my personal Disney favourite: Mulan. I much prefer this modern interpretation of the Admonitions Scroll. Reflect before you act is excellent advice for many things, including legal research.
Cathie Best at her Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research agrees that “Plan and organize your research” is the first step in the legal research process. How can your reflect before you act on your legal research question?
Start your research memo by writing the facts as you understand them and then skip to the bottom of you document and work on your “sources consulted” list. Include the textbooks you are going to consult and what you are going to look for in the indices or tables of contents. Include your plan for the terms you will look for in Halsbury’s Laws of Canada and the CED. Write out your search strategy including your search string and plan for narrowing or expanding your results (remember to work broad to narrow for cost effective commercial database searching). Think about legislation that might apply to your issue. Think about which source to look at first – perhaps your firm has a research memo bank.
Often, I write with too many commas. A comma is a beautiful thing, in fact, all punctuation is necessary for readers to understand a piece of text. Just ask the Associated Press who sent this punctuation-less tweet:
Then there was a clarification:
Today’s Tip: Think about your legal research responses. Are you missing a comma?
Do You Need to Read That Document on Paper?
First let me say that I really like reading on screen for business purposes. Second, let me contradict that by complaining about my aged eyes and how I keep pulling my monitors closer to my face. Third, let me tell you how much I enjoy reading novels in print when that is a viable alternative (not traveling, my public library has a print copy without waiting for an inter-library loan). Fourthly, let me give a hat tip to John DiGilio who noted a post on Lawyerist.com that inspired Today’s Tip.
Scientific American looked at some studies comparing paper vs. screen reading and concluded that “when it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage.”
My take on paper vs. screen when doing legal research is totally unscientific. When skimming through research results I like to use the navigation of seeing my terms highlighted, changing the sort order of results and quickly jumping past irrelevant hits to the next document. When digesting the now selected content, if documents are long, I sometimes choose to print and read from paper.
Today’s Tip: be aware of how you interact with text and make conscious decisions about how you need to work.
Some of the high use items linked from our firm’s intranet are calculators. I am not talking about the e-quivalent of a device that helps find the square root of 9*, but rather tools that help calculate things for context.
We have tipped you previously on calculating present value and currency calculators but we haven’t talked about date calculators.
Time and Date AS is a Norwegian LLC that gives people free time and date related information and services via timeanddate.com. This site offers multiple points of assistance including a date calculator that lets you add or subtract days, weeks, months or years from a date.
Do you use any groovy (preferably no cost) tools that you would like to share with research tip readers? Click on Submit a Tip in the footer to share.
*The square root of 9 is 3 – did that math using my brain: another calculator!
Defining Research Value
A Slaw.ca post by Lynn Foley last week provided the inspiration for today’s tip.
Lynn asked Slawyers to consider what their clients perceive as value using the lens of the ACC Value Challenge. I ask Slaw Tips research readers to consider how the discrete piece of legal research they are doing adds value for the client.
One of the most important skills a legal researcher can bring to a project is the ability to focus on the question they are trying to answer. There are a ton of information sources available that any question can be filtered through, so the value part of research is knowing which parts of that ton should be set aside and which must be reviewed in order to fully answer the question without doing extra steps that are unnecessary and occasionally costly.
Today’s tip: stay focused on the question you are researching to add value.
Look for Open Source Texts
I like to think I know about all kinds of sources – partly because I usually remember what I share. Sometimes I just miss things though. Today’s Tip could come with the Beatles as the background music:
I get by with a little help from my friends
Thanks to my new colleague Josette McEachern, who posted on the Edmonton Law Libraries Association Blog, I now know that there is an open and free version of the Income Tax Act Annotated provided by Lexum.
Check it out
Watch Your Spelling
Today’s tip is a quick reminder to think about the British/Canadian and US spellings and how that might affect your search string.
offence = offense
Offense in CanLII finds 227Alberta Appeal court decisions.
Offence in CanLII finds 4433 Alberta Appeal court decisions.
Read That URL – Again
The very first Research Tip on this blog was about reading the URL. That advice is the same today as it was back in January 2011. Understanding ‘where’ on the web you are getting information from is a useful skill.
Dan has written about phishing and there is a a good twist on Lifehacker that discusses how to boost your phishing detection skills. The skill set boils down to reading the URL and being aware of where you are vs. where you want to be.
What does this have to do with legal research? Reading a URL and understanding where the information you are gathering is posted is important. Is that decision you found through a link sitting on a website that you can safely cite to? Is it a Scribd item added to a news article? Aare you looking at something that has been uploaded for a purpose? Is the decision part of the course material from a law school open casebook? In what context is it being offered up?
Reading the URL is a good information gatehring practice. Today’s Tip: glance up and to the left and take note of the web address. Look to your status bar before clicking on a hyperlink that will take you down a research path that is not useful to you.
Limit Your Searches
One of the things that we teach at Head Start* programs is how to limit searching to the most relevant set of data that will lead quickly to an answer. Today’s Tip is to remember that a data set limit might be a jurisdiction, court level or date range or it could be deciding to look first to digests of cases rather than a full text source.
A student recently asked how many cases to use in a memo to illustrate his research findings. My response: only as many as you need to show binding or if not binding then persuasive authority to support your point. Limiting initial case law searching to sources of binding authority is a good step for a first sweep on an issue. Who knows – you may find an appropriate answer right away.
We also remind searchers in Head Start programs that a caselaw search isn’t the first step, but that is a tip that we have alluded to many times before.
* Head Start programs are legal research refresher seminars that are offered to articling students in various communities – see the upcoming CALL/ACBD Webinar on the SWOT of Law Library Head Start Programs for more information.