All Our Research Tips
What Is in Your Collection?
The librarians in our firm library often have questions on topics that are outside our experience. This is no big deal. As well trained and experienced legal information specialists we know the steps to follow to gather information on whatever topic comes our way.
One of the things that we have to remind ourselves to do, most especially this decade, is to constantly reorient ourselves to texts and other commentary that we have access to in our constantly changing and growing web based research tools. I am not talking about how Google grows or new tools like CanLII Connects, but rather how our fee based subscriptions grow and change in content. I nearly made a rookie mistake yesterday to spend time and a wee bit of money to arrange an inter-library loan for a textbook available through a database subscription.
I can only imagine how difficult it is for non-library types to keep up with what is available to you within your organization’s materials. Given how challenging it is for me (the person who is responsible for paying for this stuff), today’s tip is to look in your own collection. You will be pleasantly surprised by what you have access to just down the hall or even at your desk.
Share Those Conference Papers
Whenever we give legal research training to law students one of the sources of valuable up-to-date commentary that we emphasize are papers from continuing legal education seminars. This type of material provides valuable local commentary, often on changes to the law, that is specific, succinct and to the point.
In Alberta, we are lucky that the cataloguers at the Alberta Law Libraries create a comprehensive search of the table of contents for material in their catalogue. In addition to finding tools from the publishers of conference papers, a keyword search of the library catalogue will find the title or author of a paper within the seminar materials. This time consuming, but extremely useful content created by ALL library staff is not duplicated in house in my shop. Instead, we use the ALL Library Catalogue to determine the seminar title and then we search in our collection to see if we own the material.
My tip today is SHARE. Sharing the conference papers with your in house library team makes it quick for your colleagues (and also you) to find the gold nuggets in these useful sources while you are looking for other material on the topic. Even if the conference papers are on a memory stick or available through an email link, I bet that your organization’s library staff have a plan for how to make this content accessible.
Hat tip to my colleagues Jon and Michelle who, without prompting, recently sent papers from a conference they attended to my library.
Read a Textbook
I have to confess that I am a reader. Go figure! Being a reader is trait that has been particularly helpful in my practice as a non-lawyer legal researcher, and given the high volume of use in my law libraries text collection (both print and online), I am not alone in this.
Often texts used in the legal research process are simply skimmed. The index points you to a place of interest, you skim a few pages, and valuable footnotes or embedded citations lead you out of the text to other resources.
Today’s Tip – pick up a textbook and read it. Use a legal text to discover details about an area of law that is loosely related to your practice. Use a legal text to remind yourself about fundamentals. Use a legal text like a book – discover the whole of it. Reading a legal text this way means you can gloss over the footnotes and stay tuned to the authored work.
Try it out. You may remember how much you enjoy the law.
Look at the Headnote
Headnotes – a brief summary, comment, or explanation, often prepared by an editor and pladed at the beginning of a court decision. In the opinion of this librarian – the value added information about a decision that quickly and succinctly gives a hint of it’s relevance to an immediate legal research question.
Today’s Tip is a pointer that the definition of headnote applies to CanLII in a new and useful way.
What happens when you select “show headnote” for this decision from the SCC? In addition to the court prepared summary that is embedded in a Supreme court of Canada decision, CanLII has long provided links to related decisions, legislation cited that is available on CanLII and decisions that are cited in the case. In addition to those value added features showing the headnote on CanLII now offers a link to the new CanLII Connects service. You will see:
“Visit CanLII·Connects – summaries and opinions from the legal community on selected cases”
For this decision, there are currently 3 case comments from registered CanLII Connects members – lawyers, scholars and others with professional competency in legal analysis who have offered CanLII Connects content for the information of anyone who wishes to read it – See more about CanLII Connects.
I appreciate the ability to see commentary about decisions. This innovation with add more ‘social’ to legal commentary. The legal community speaking to each other through published case commentary has been wonderful. The legal community offering select commentary to our own clients and through our own websites has also been very useful. It will be interesting to see how socializing legal commentary with this offer of case comments easily available to all impacts the legal information space.
Thanks to Colin and Sarah at CanLII for this new tool, and to all the firms and lawyers who took the time and continue to contribute to this resource.
Consider a US Address
I really want to ty Google Glass. I am not kidding. I think there is excellent potential that this tech – or something like it – will be an innovation bump that directly impacts legal research.
On Monday, a message from Google told me:
As we mentioned this past weekend, we’re opening up a few spots in the Glass Explorer Program this week. One thing we want to clarify is that spots in the program are for US residents only.
While we’d love to bring Glass to our friends around the world (we promise we are working on this), the usual restrictions still apply. Just a reminder, all Glass Explorers must:
- Be US residents
- Be 18 years or older
- Purchase Glass for $1,500 + tax
- Provide a US shipping address
I don’t like to cheat the system – well not always – but there is a way to manage the disappointing trend of not being able to access technology as quickly if you are outside of the US. Consider acquiring some property in the States so that you have a mailing address there. My banker wishes I was kidding.
The questions I need to answer that only a personal tst of GG will do: how does it react when browsing Canadian commercial legal research sites; how does it work for CanLII searching; what about my firm’s website; is this a tech that will have an impact on how we do business.
Plus, I just want it. I am not kidding.
Internet Archive – More Than Just the Wayback Machine
It may be a rare Slaw Tips reader who has not plugged a website URL into the Wayback Machine offered by the Internet Archive. We have mentioned Internet Archive in a couple of previous tips here and here.
Today’s tip is a reminder that Internet Archive is more … much, much, more than just an archive of the web. For a small slice of discovery, check out the Texts portion of this amazing collection. Did you know this collection has the 1906 Revised Statutes of Canada? It also has the RSC 1970.
There is a ton of cool and useful research material in this collection.
Watch the Law Library Blog
The Law Society of Saskatchewan has a new blog.
“Legal Sourcery” helps you navigate through the jumble of legal resources. Follow us for useful legal research tricks, interesting legal research news and what’s happening at the Library.
Law library blogs offer research tips, highlights of the specific resources they have to offer, and interesting polls.
Law libraries in many jurisdictions and from many library types have blogs. Check out the Legal Research & Law Libraries Blogs category at lawblogs.ca.
If you like the posts from Legal Sourcery, come to Winnipeg May 25-28 for the Canadian Association of Law Libraries annual conference. I guarantee you will have an opportunity to meet Melanie Hodges Neufeld, Director of Legal Resources, Law Society of Saskatchewan and Legal Sourcery blogger.
Use 3rd Party Sites
I absolutely love resources like legisalture and parliament websites that offer details about current and historical legislation and it’s progress. I also love government websites that offer the full text of various government publications. Sometimes those sites don’t offer the quick way to exactly what you need.
Today’s Tip: Don’t be afraid to use 3rd party collections of things rather than their original source.
Think about all of the Open Data initiatives – open data websites collect from a variety of sources into a clearinghouse website. Like a library but without a decent reference desk – great for experienced gatherers who know what they are looking for though. I recently peeked at openparliament.ca which is an excellent umbrella search tool.
How to Read Case Citations
An important legal research tanslation skill is the ability to look at a case citation and understand what it means. Today’s Tip is in honour of the forthcoming 8th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation.
There are plenty of excellent resources on legal citation, but these tips will help when you decipher citations:
- round brackets at the beginning of a citation give you the year that the decision was released
- square brackets at the beginning of a citation mean that you need the year in order to find the correct volume of the reporter to locate the case
- digests case citations look the same as citations for full text decisions (ACWS is a digest – All Canada Weekly Summaries; so is AWLD – Alberta Weekly Law Digest)
- neutral citations are generally only available for decisions from 1998 and newer
- if you can’t figure out what is being cited, search the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations
- cases sometimes change names as they move through various levels of court
Did I miss any tips?
Look a Little Harder
Today’s Tip is inspired by my colleague Jane Symons. As we occasionally do, Jane zipped out to another library to borrow a book for one of our lawyers – yes folks, print is still necessary for legal research. She was looking for something in a government documents collection – yes folks, that is correct, not all government documents are on the interweb. The item was not where it was supposed to be on the shelf.
Jane says the library gods were smiling on her when after carefully scanning each item on the surrounding shelves she happened to glance a several stacks away and noticed the item on the shelf. I say she was practicing excellent librarianship by not stopping her search when the item wasn’t where it was expected to be.
Never give up, never surrender. While that phrase quotes an ongoing joke from a fictional TV show, it does reflect the persistence that searchers should bring to legal research tasks.