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

technology  research  practice

All Our Research Tips

‘Keep it simple’ is good advice – but advice that many lawyers fail to heed.

As soon as I am able
Seen in automatic out-of-office e-mail replies or heard on voicemail.

There is nothing wrong with as soon as I can, and it certainly sounds less pretentious.

For the avoidance of doubt
This phrase is pompous, no doubt about that.

It also indicates that you needed to explain things better in the first place.

Don’t admit failure: avoid it.

Someone recently e-mailed me the latest iteration of the presentation.

So much fancier than a good old draft or version.

But seriously, how much iterating do you really do?

And an iterative process is just work that requires more than one step. (Which is to say, most of what we do.)

Thus is an adverb, so there is no need to add an adverbial –ly ending just to sound all formal.

And come to think of it, you should avoid thus as well – something simple like like this will work just fine, and will sound more normal.

As for thus far, never.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


“Private acts” are acts that are passed to deal specifically with the private interests of a person, company, or organization; for example the Acme Assurance Company Incorporation Act, S.C. 1931, c. 71 is a private act. Private acts can be found both federally and provincially. 

One challenge with researching private acts is that they may not be consolidated in their jurisdiction’s Revised Statutes. If this is the case, a researcher will have to pull the original act (which may be quite old) and any subsequent amendments, and produce a consolidation manually. On the plus side, private acts tend not to be frequently amended, so it is not unusual for a private act to currently read the same as it did when it came into force.

The majority of jurisdictions across Canada have produced tables of private acts which are very helpful when researching them. The following is a list of these tables:

Federal: Table of Private Acts 

Alberta: the Table of Private Statutes of the Province of Alberta is available in print at the end of the annual Statutes of Alberta volumes and on QP Source (a subscription database)

British Columbia: Table of Private, Special and Local Acts and Unconsolidated Public Acts that lists all private and other unconsolidated acts along with their amendments. 

Manitoba: Private Acts

New Brunswick: Index to the Private Acts of the Province of New Brunswick, 1929-2012 [produced by the Canadian Bar Association]

Newfoundland and Labrador: Table of Local, Personal, and Private Statutes

Nova Scotia: Index of Private and Local Acts (to 2016)

Ontario: Table of Private Statutes (private statutes that were enacted after 1999 can be viewed in Source Law)

Saskatchewan: Table of Private Acts (up to and including February 15, 2017)

Susannah Tredwell


Does it still strike you as odd to see Cate Blanchett or Meryl Streep described as an actor?

Actress is in fact a relatively new word in English, because no females performed on stage in England before the seventeenth century (although the OED does say that actor was applied to both sexes in the early days of the mixed stage).

Even now, not everybody is using actor for both women and men. There are more than 75,000 women who describe themselves on LinkedIn as an actress. Oscars are not yet awarded to the best female actor – much less to the best actor, regardless of sex (or gender).

Other ­–ess words faded away longer ago. It would be rare nowadays to ask to speak to the manageress of a shop. Even early in the twentieth century the terms poetess and sculptress fell from use because they sounded faintly derogatory (OED quotes a passage in which poetess is described as ‘somewhat outmoded’ in 1903). Waitress is disappearing – but so too is waiter, both largely displaced by server. One would still use priestess, but only in relation to a non-Christian, possibly historical religion (‘the priestess of Diana at Ephesus’), rather than for a female ordinand in the Anglican churches that have them.

If you are still using legal Latin, you may still also be referring to a testatrix, executrix or (possibly) administratrix (although Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act uses the –tor forms for both men and women). Aviatrix is as dead as Amelia Earhart, but dominatrix is firmly entrenched (perhaps because no one would dare mess with one).

United States congressmen have been joined by congresswomen since the early twentieth century, but congresspersons or congresspeople never gained much terminological traction. (Do you remember Saturday Night Live’s send-up of The Village Persons?)

If the trend in English seems to be going towards the gender-neutral (or, actually, to the terms formerly applied only to men, like priest), continental languages have gone the other way.

In the days when there weren’t many, a female lawyer in France or Quebec used to be un avocat, just like her male counterpart; one now sees une avocate. In traditional European French, a female judge was madame le juge; madame la juge was the polite way to refer to the wife of a male judge. Quebeckers – either less polite or more egalitarian, depending on how you look at it – dropped madame la juge for the judge’s wife, and started using it for a Madam Justice.

A woman lawyer in Italy is an avvocatessa, and a female academic is a dottoressa or professoressa.

In Germany, the feminine equivalent of a Rechtsanwalt (lawyer) is a Rechtsanwältin, although the Federal Lawyers Code uses the masculine form as a ‘gender-neutral’ term. In academic circles, one is either Frau or Herr Doktor (or, if super-qualified, Herr or Frau Doktor Doktor or Professor Doktor).

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


On a recent Canada Day, someone on LinkedIn referred to O’Canada, which is clearly wrong. (O’ is confined to Irish surnames, where it is the anglicised version of the Gaelic Ó or Ua, meaning ‘descendant of’; M(a)c [or M’], as for the Scots, means ‘son of’).

But is it O Canada, Oh! Canada or what?

O, not followed by punctuation and closely linked in sense to what follows, is what’s called a vocative – and is correct in things like national anthems or hymns.

Oh is usually followed by punctuation and is more like a stand-alone exclamation tacked on to the rest: Oh, hell! Oh! what a scoundrel! Oh, no you don’t!

Usage of O and Oh has not always been consistent, however (think back to the revue Oh! Calcutta! if you’re old enough).

But O’Canada has never been OK.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Odds are, the only way you used this word before you went to law school was to describe physical absence: I was absent from school that day because I had the flu.

Then, all of a sudden, in 1L you started saying things like absent evidence to the contrary because it made you sound all, like, lawyer-y.

Please revert to your pre-law ways. Without or even in the absence of will strike your non-lawyer readers as normal.

And that’s a good thing.

In a position …
You aren’t in a position to do X, Y, or Z?

Just say I can’t do X, Y or Z, which is more direct and avoids suggestions of awkward body poses.

This is an example of three syllables where one or two would suffice: show, say, suggest are all shorter – and actually clearer.

The lawyer said (pompously): Upon my return to the office …

 Please, just When I return or On my return. Or even When I get back.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Based on a discussion on the CALL listserv – many thanks to Martha Murphy for all the information.

One of the services typically offered by law libraries is legislative tracking. Examples of this service include tracking a bill from First Reading to Royal Assent (and beyond) and alerting users to proposed changes to an existing piece of legislation. 

Depending on how much legislation they need to track, librarians can either check the source (e.g. LEGISinfo or legislative website) on a regular basis or they can set up an alert for any legislative changes. The federal government and some provinces (such as Nova Scotia and Quebec) offer RSS feeds that can be used to track legislation. CanLII also has an RSS feed.

Recently a question came up on the Canadian Association of Law Libraries listserv as to what tools people used. The following is a list of resources to track Canadian legislation that were suggested by CALL-ACBD members:

  • Codify Legal Publishing allows users to set up alerts, with the first three feeds being free 
  • GovtMonitor allows users to track and monitor federal and provincial (Ontario and Alberta) legislation, regulations, Hansards etc.
  • LexisNexis’s Canadian Legislative Pulse allows users to monitor the progress of bills as well as notifying them of any proposed changes to legislation
  • LexBox includes an add-on for free CanLII alerts
  • Optimize Employment and Optimize Pensions offer legislative tracking
  • Quickscribe allows users to set alerts for any changes to BC Statutes and Regulations; users can also set up keyword alerts for BC Hansard ad Orders in Council 
  • Thomson Reuters’ Canada Statute Service
  • WestlawNext’s Legislative Watch “allows you to track individual bills or bills relating to specific statutes for deeper, more efficient research.” 
  • WestlawNext Canada and Lexis Advance Quicklaw allows users to set up alerts

Susannah Tredwell


We’ve covered a(n) historical already: an before an H word is, essentially, a historical holdover we can do without; but do it if it makes you feel better.

We have, however, safely abandoned the an that used to go before words like eulogy, one, unique and unit.

A reader has asked a related question about abbreviations. Is it an LLB or a LLB? A LCBO outlet or an LCBO outlet?

I think the classical rule was to use whichever form of the indefinite article would be appropriate if the abbreviation were spelled out in full: a LLP for a limited liability partnership..

In speech, however, people naturally began to say things like an MP – and you can do this in writing too, especially where the abbreviated form is more commonly used than the full version.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


Remanded back
I heard this on the CBC, and I’m hoping it hasn’t made its way into criminal lawyers’ writing: The suspect was remanded back into custody.

The re­- prefix means ‘back’, so it is just remanded (and usually in custody, sometimes to, but not into).

Similarly, not refer back – just refer.

Ditto revert etc.

The reason why
Lord Tennyson may be to blame for this one (or C.V. Wedgwood): ‘Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or to die’ (The Charge of the Light Brigade).

It’s a pretty awful poem, but it’s worse to say The reason why the defendant did this is…; it’s just The reason the defendant did this is…

And please, never the reason is because or, worse, the reason why is because (the latter something also heard on the CBC).

The reason is that … can work, however.

Still remain
If something remains, it’s still there – so still is a tautology.

Which is to say, unnecessary.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


If you are unfamiliar with this writer, head to the nearest independent bookstore (Ben McNally would be an excellent choice in Toronto) and buy her unusual and compelling novels Speedboat (1976) and Pitch Dark (1983), both recently reissued under the New York Review of Books imprint.

What have they got to do with legal writing?

After completing her doctorate at the Sorbonne, Adler received a JD from Yale but never practised law.

Her training in law (and linguistics) must have prompted this perceptive observation of a lawyerly or that is more conjunctive than disjunctive: ‘And I’ve found, I think, the strongest “or” in language anywhere. It’s the lawyers’ phrase: as he then well knew or should have known. The strongest or.’

And she decries the overuse/misuse of literally and presently in a passage on the ‘assault mode’ of cinema reviewers:

‘“Literally,” in every single case, meant figuratively; that is, not literally. This film will literally grab you by the throat. This book will literally knock you out of your chair. “Presently” always meant not soon but now.’

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


The question came up recently on the CALL listserv about how to cite online looseleafs, specifically those available on Thomson Reuters’ ProView platform.

The McGill Guide suggests citing print looseleafs as follows:

Author, Title (publication information) (Loose-leaf revision, supplement number or date), pinpoint.

However the McGill Guide does not address the question of how to cite a looseleaf that’s been accessed online. Extrapolating from section 6.2.1 of the McGill Guide (“Books”), it makes sense to add the online source at the end, e.g.

Author, Title (publication information) (Loose-leaf revision, supplement number or date), pinpoint (WL Can).

Note that Appendix E of the McGill Guide lists a number of abbreviations for online services, but not ones for Lexis Advance or ProView. 

Many thanks to Esther Bélanger of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin who provided the following information:

[Thomson Reuters] are recommending this form :

Donald MacOdrum, Fox on the Canadian law of patents (Consulted on 29 August 2019), (Toronto: Thomson Reuters), ch 14 at 10 (Thomson Reuters eLooseleaf Library).

It is probably more practical to follow the McGill Guide’s lead and cite the revision number/date rather than the date it was consulted.

Esther also noted that Thomson Reuters sensibly recommends “looseleaf titles, whether in print or electronically … should be cited to chapter and section number/heading, not to page or paragraph numbers.”

Susannah Tredwell