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

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All Our Research Tips

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:


* 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.


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.


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.