All Our Research Tips
What do I mean by this? Pairs of words that lawyers routinely use together, but would be better not to.
These pairs may once (in the late Middle Ages?) have had distinct meanings but now really don’t.
And even in the Middle Ages they may not have: many of these ‘coupled synonyms’ (in Richard Wydick‘s phrase) join an English word with its (Old) French equivalent, in a belt-and-suspenders manoeuvre.
Like ‘free and clear’, which combines the synonymous Old English freo and the Old French cler.
Null and void [how about ‘of no effect’?]
No force or effect [ditto]
Save and except [one or the other, not both]
Full and complete [same comment]
Unless and until [this drives me crazy]
Separate and apart [except as a term of art in family law]
Cease and desist [plain old ‘stop’ will do just fine]
These formulations are redundant and inelegant, they don’t reflect how normal people (like clients) actually speak, and they make your writing look fussy.
Next: avoid the adverb.
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Stay on Top of Changes to Specific Webpages With ChangeDetection.com
ChangeDetection.com is a tool I recommend to help you monitor webpages and be notified automatically if they’ve been updated. No one wants to be sitting around refreshing a web page until that important agreement gets uploaded and goes public. This tool will watch the page for you and email you when it’s updated. Being the first one to share that sort of update with a colleague or client often pays off with new work or with increased trust and respect.
If I wanted to be notified of updates to a Government of BC page listing all current agreements between them and, for example, the Stó:lo Nation, I would plug the page URL into ChangeDetection.com and set it to email me whenever there is a change to the page. Another example of a webpage that may be of interest to monitor is this federal Ministry of Finance page of all open consultations with the public (which could lead to new legislation). Typically, ChangeDetection.com checks pages once per day for changes.
Of course, many websites already have an email subscription feature that emails you when a new document is added. ChangeDetection.com offers no particular benefit in cases like that. For example, the BC Government press release website has a great email subscription for notification of new press releases. However, there are also many sites where the email subscription option is difficult to find or absent altogether. (I’m looking at you, Federal Court practice directives.) In those cases, I don’t hesitate to copy the URL into my account on ChangeDetection.com.
So, next time you come across a webpage and think “I should bookmark this and check on it from time to time”, consider also adding it to ChangeDetection.com. Few of us have the follow through to actually go back and check that page regularly, so why not let ChangeDetection.com do it for you? Just set it and [you won’t] forget it!
My sincere thanks to Debbie Millward who first shared this site with me.
— Bronwyn Guiton (@BronwynMaye)
Post-script for techies:
ChangeDetection.com isn’t just an RSS reader with a push notification feature for when a blog has been updated. That sort of notification of new pages is fairly common. ChangeDetection.com actually maintains a log of recent changes to an existing page and allows you to see the difference between any two versions of it. Since any and all changes to the page will be detected, occasionally this makes for some irrelevant notifications. I fondly recall the day last summer when the Government of BC changed every last “and” to “&” on their website menus. These are the little changes that you’ll still get notified about and it’s up to you to decide how much of this noise is worth the convenience of being the first to hear about a relevant new agreement or initiative.
Catchy Headlines and Openers
Just as blogs get more readers than e-mails, articles with catchy headlines and enticing openers are more likely to be looked at than, well, boring ones.
Here is a post from LinkedIn that illustrates the point:
A recent case from the ONSC clarifies the law on whether municipalities can regulate boathouses and whether the Building Code Act applies to same, finding that (i) municipalities have jurisdiction to zone Ontario lakes and apply zoning by-laws to lakes, regulating construction of boathouses and other structures; and (ii) the Building Code Act applies to such structures, where not otherwise prohibited by the by-laws and the Public Lands Act.
Descriptive and relatively clear (despite the legalese) – but so dull! Especially when the underlying facts are so good: Toronto lawyer objects to a neighbouring cottager’s rogue boathouse, municipality and province refuse to step in and regulate, lawyer sues governments, judge clarifies ‘murky waters’ (his phrase) of planning rules for boathouse construction.
Or consider these examples from Lexology, which tell the reader nothing and provide little incentive to find out more:
US Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System approves final rule amending Regulation D
Shearman & Sterling LLP
On June 18, 2015, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System adopted a final rule amending Regulation D (Reserve Requirements of Depository…
“Reasonable time” in FRCP 60(b) is measured between notice and filing.
Jenner & Block
In Bouret-Echevarría v. Caribbean Aviation Maintenance Corp.,784 F.3d 37 (1st Cir. 2015) (No. 13-2549), the First Circuit addressed the…
Ironworkers Dist. Council of Phila. & Vicinity Ret. & Pension Plan v. Andreotti, C.A. No. 9714-VCG (Del. Ch. May 8, 2015) (Glasscock, V.C.)
Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP
In this memorandum opinion, the Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s derivative complaint under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, and…
Probably nothing could save that one from Jenner & Block, but you get the point. Lexology just shows a headline and the opening words of your piece, so make them enticing.
And let’s rewrite the Ontario update along these lines: Judge clears up ‘murky waters’ – you can’t just build a boathouse wherever and however you want.
Next tip: gruesome twosomes.
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Deciphering Legal Citations
Legal citations like to pack the largest amount of information in the smallest amount of space. However, if you are not familiar with the abbreviation for a specific law journal or reporter, it can be tricky figuring out what is being referred to from a few scant letters. Adding to the confusion is that one journal may be referred to by different abbreviations and the same abbreviation may be used for multiple law reports. (For example, does the B in B.L.R. refer to Business or Building or Burma?)
Fortunately there are a number of resources to assist in deciphering these abbreviations.
Donald Raistrick’s Index to legal citations and abbreviations, 4th ed. (London : Sweet & Maxwell, 2013) provides an extensive (if not exhaustive) list of legal abbreviations.
Appendix C of the McGill Guide lists the most common abbreviations for law journals.
If you are looking for an online resource, the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations lists legal abbreviations for publications from over 295 jurisdictions.
–Susannah Tredwell (@hannasus)
My first tip is simple: get writing!
Or, more to the point, get blogging.
Blogged content has high visibility and much higher readership than content that is distributed by e-mail. Unless you have a very targeted and well-maintained e-mail distribution list, it’s unlikely that a publication sent by e-mail will be opened (much less read) by more than 5% of its recipients.
Contrast that with material that is posted on a blog, which can easily get views in the four digits. Blog posts also have the advantage of being picked up the aggregators (LinkedIn, Lexology, Mondaq, JD Supra), which widen your readership even further. By way of example, Lexology once told me that a blog post of mine had been read by someone in the airport lounge in Perth, Australia. (The poor sod must have been at a loose end.)
So what to blog about? Recent developments in the law, of course, but give them a practical spin. Don’t just announce some new decision or legislation, explain why it’s relevant to your clients or potential clients. Give your perspective on industry trends or market developments. A fresh take on things is more likely to attract readers.
And on that note, my next tip is Catchy headlines and openers.
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Noting Up Tip
I shared some tips about technology skills with some fine folks via webinar with CBA Manitoba’s Legal Research Section recently. One of the tech skills was about noting up:
Note up cases for judicial history as well as consideration of decisions by other cases and legal commentary using multiple database sources (fee and free)
The tip was about the way to execute performing a noteup using CanLII, WestlawNext Canada and LexisNexis Quicklaw.
Melanie R. Bueckert, LL.B., LL.M., Legal Research Counsel at the Manitoba Court of Appeal offered this excellent addition:
The only thing I would have added, if we had time, was regarding noting-up. Personally, I always right-click on the cases listed on the note-up screen & open them up in a separate window. I started doing this some time ago, because I found you would lose your filtering if you just used the browser’s back button. It also allows you to stay in the same place in your results list.
My thanks to Melanie for the excellent advice!
Watch for New Tools
Today’s Tip was inspired by a news release that crossed my email:
Canadian startup launches law search engine
Legal technology puts 5 million pages of laws from around the world
(September 24, 2015, Toronto) – Canadian startup, Global-Regulation Inc., has just launched a law search engine that enables searching 225,000+ laws from the European Union, United States, Canada, China, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Germany, Japan and other countries.
“Our software automatically translates laws into English so our users can search the world’s laws,” says Founder Addison Cameron-Huff. “Automatic translation makes the world’s laws instantly accessible to researchers, regulators, lawyers and businesspeople.”
Global-Regulation emerged out of research at Osgoode School of Law (York University) in Toronto, Canada. The two Founders are Nachshon Goltz, an Israeli lawyer turned Ph.D. candidate at Osgoode Law School and Addison Cameron-Huff, a Canadian tech lawyer and award-winning programmer. Mr. Goltz, who is completing his Ph.D. in regulation, knows that, “Google does not cater to government regulators.”
“We are helping the people who write our laws by giving them the tools they know they need but no one is making,” notes Mr. Cameron-Huff.
The founders aim to make the world’s laws searchable in order to help regulators make better regulations and lawyers better understand the international landscape.
Global-Regulation has 100,000 more laws in the pipeline and aim to have more than half a million laws available in 2016. The current database would exceed 5 million printed pages and would be a stack as high as the CN Tower.
The service is available for limited free use by the public at www.global-regulation.com.
If you are aware of new tools you will always be able to judge your efficiency in retrieving an answer to a legal research question.
The global-regulation.com site is pretty cool too.
I recently did some work for one of my colleagues and was reminded how great it feels when you do something and get feedback. Today’s tip is to give feedback. Often, legal research is shared among many and giving feedback will reinforce all the positive aspects of sharing access to work product.
If you are using someone else’s prior work as part of your research, let them know that it was helpful. Let them know that by properly citing the cases and legislation you were able to note things up. Let them know that by listing the texts and other secondary authorities they used it made your job easier. Let them know that their efforts at clear writing, using headings, and relying on a standard predictable format for research analysis, it helped you do your job.
Understand the Why
Today’s short legal research tip is this:
You will find better answers to questions if you know Why you are asking them in the first place.
Understanding the motivation for an answer that is hidden behind a question helps reveal biases, suppositions, assumptions and missing inputs that, if misunderstood, lead to incomplete, incorrect, and inefficiently gathered results.
I think about this whenever I momentarily worry that artificial intelligence will make librarians obsolete.
Human Rights Search Engine HuriSearch
If you are doing research in the area of human rights, you might find HuriSearch a useful addition to your toolbox.
HuriSearch offers a fairly sophisticated front end, allowing you to query any of four types of source (NGOs, national human rights institutions, academic institutions, and intergovernmental organizations), search in any of sixteen languages, and use word variations if you wish. As well, search results can be filtered by facets: source type, source organization, country, and document format. Furthermore, you’re offered a permalink to your search and an RSS feed, so that you can stay up-to-date.
To my joy (and likely my fellow librarians) there is an advanced search option.
HuriSearch is a product of HURIDOCS, an international NGO helping human rights organisations use information technologies and documentation methods to maximize the impact of their advocacy work.