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

technology  research  practice

All Our Research Tips

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.

 

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

 

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.

Happy Wednesday!

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

With Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation coming into force on July 1, 2014, you may have noticed an increasing number of “confirm your email” opt in messages. Though there is a transition period where consent to receive commercial electronic messages is implied, most organizations are getting their express consent ducks in a row.

Today’s Tip is to be list conscious…or more practically, think really hard before you decide to unsubscribe.

Personally, I am making sure that legal publishers I deal with are able to send me email. Though there are plenty of ways to stay up to date on new publications and you may think of the ‘new book’ emails as being the most frequent publisher sent commercial electronic messages, publishers sent emails about all kinds of important things that you want to know.

  • planned outages for electronic products
  • new formats for existing works
  • changes to pricing
  • notices about mergers and new content

Be list conscious so that you are not out of the loop.

If the number of commercial electronic messages are getting on your last nerve, consider Slawyer Jack Newton’s Email Pro Tip #1 Create a “Robots” Folder and only look at your CEMs once a day.

 

When you are citing a web resource, provide the URL – the whole URL that links directly to the document you are referencing.

What am I talking about? As an example, when you cite a federal regulation, you identify it with the SOR number not the page  number of the issue of the Canada Gazette that the regulation came from. The URL reference should be equally as direct in my opinion.  A hyperlink or URL that points to the SOR – in this case the HTML version of the individual regulation from the Gazette website – not the PDF link for the more general Gazette issue the SOR is published in.

What does the NEW 8th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation say about online resources? It agrees with me!

Cite the full URL of the source, but exclude the http:// protocol. Include the protocol if it is anything else (for
example https://).

The McGill Guide, as this title is often referred to, is now available as an online publication hosted on WestlawNext Canada as well as being available in print and print plus online pricing formats. A screen shot of part of a download* from 8th edition, Online Resources section offers the general rules:

8thMcGill

* Thanks to Carswell Reference Support for providing the McGill Guide 8th edition sample.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.