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

technology  research  practice

All Our Research Tips

Jack Newton posted an excellent email tip on Slaw way back in February 2013. He suggested creating an email rule that moved email with the word “unsubscribe” to a Robots folder so that it skipped your inbox and let you concentrate on the most important of your email and no the automated messages (newsletters, alerts from Twitter, etc).  I have been using this tip with glee since his posting to filter my inbox and only check my Robots folder once per day.

Until today.

Thanks (and I say that with a bit of snark) to CASL, I am now delaying reading messages that are not ‘automated’ since some businesses have an ‘unsubscribe’ process outlined in all of their email footers.

I am keeping my ‘Robots’ rule and adding exceptions for the email domains of email that this is happening with. Today’s Tip: attend to your email and watch your rules – adjust as necessary.


An event reminder by the Canadian Association of Law Libraries about the Substantive Law Webinar Series gets a Hat Tip for providing Today’s Research Tip. The Tip is to seek out opportunities to learn things via webinar.  Plenty of associations and organizations, including some law firms, are offering webinars on useful topics that will make legal research in a new or unfamiliar area a little bit easier.

CALL is offering:

Substantive Law Webinar Series

The Webinar Committee is pleased to offer a series of substantive law webinars delivered by Ted Tjaden. Ted delivered a webinar on Civil Procedure in March, 2014, and due to the level of interest, the Committee has paired up with Ted to offer the following subjects over 2014 and 2015. Tort Law – October 30, 2014 from 1:00pm-2:30pm Contract Law – December 9, 2014 from 1:00pm-2:30pm Constitutional Law – February 12, 2015 from 1:00pm-2:30pm Real/Personal Property Law – April 21, 2015 from 1:00pm-2:30pm Criminal Law – June 18, 2015 from 1:00pm-2:30pm


Ted Tjaden, a long-time member of CALL/ACBD and the 2010 recipient of the Denis Marshall Memorial Award for Excellence in Law Librarianship, is the national litigation precedents lawyer in Gowlings’ Toronto office. Ted works closely with the firm’s national precedents team and litigation lawyers to organize and annotate the firm’s litigation research and precedents for use by the firm’s advocacy professionals. Ted has extensive experience as a litigator and knowledge management lawyer and is called to the bar in both British Columbia and Ontario. In addition to being the author of Legal Research and Writing, 3rd ed (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2010) and The Law of Independent Legal Advice, 2nd ed (Toronto: Carswell, 2013), he is a regular speaker at conferences on issues of knowledge management, technology and the effective organization of litigation documents.

CALL/ACBD Member: $40 + $5.20 HST = $45.20/webinar Non-member: $60 + $7.80 HST = $67.80/webinar

*A 20% discount will be applied to registrations for the entire series (5 webinars). Please contact to register for all 5 webinars.


My carpenter partner likes to say, “A House is a work in progress”. I agree. Just because you have a yellow kitchen this year doesn’t mean that you can’t decide to paint it purple next year. Work In Progress, or WIP is frequently used in law firms to designate things that are not yet to the point where we ask a client to pay for them. Thinking about WIP and executing your work to the valued level when you are acting on client files is good business.

Beware of holding things as WIP for non-billable work. Items like checklists, documents you think will be a good precedent “someday”, and process or procedure notes are valuabe at the 80% complete stage and much better than using nothing.

We are so used to risk-proofing, error-proofing, and doing our best to be perfect on the client side of our work that we like to hold ourselves to that standard for everything.  I am NOT advocating that you don’t do your best work. Today’s Tip is that you consider your research tools as perpetual work in progress and don’t let that stop you from using or sharing them.

Imagine if CanLII didn’t push decisions up to their site unless they checked for missing decisions.  Seems silly right?

Hat tip to Jospeh Juran for adding the Pareto Principle to management lingo. Don’t wait.


I just attended a lunch session with a Court of Appeal Justice on the topic of legal research. You might think, why would an experienced legal researcher and law librarian spend a lunch hour listening to a topic that she knows? I have two very good reasons, the basis of today’s tip, for attending presentations and seminars on areas within your realm of experience.

  1. When you hear from others that your own process is very similar to theirs, it validates your process. It also may question your assumptions about your process if someone else’s best method differs from your own. Questions are good – they make us think.
  2. There is always something to learn. Even if it is simply a different perspective on a tool or resource, every one of us carries a bias about resources – our favourites and our last choices – great legal researchers don’t let those biases lead to habits.

In the case of today’s event, it was inside my firm.  As a law librarian, it is particularly important to attend sessions where the type of information being shared is training that your department ‘owns’.  It also provided an opportunity for a follow-up note to attendees with links and pointers to our easiest location of sources that were mentioned. There is value in validation.


September 24 is National Punctuation Day in the U.S. Though this isn’t a statutory (or highly celebrated) holiday in Canada, the fact that there are people in the world who care about and critique punctuation delights me.

In all seriousness, punctuation is a problem in a searcher’s world. Time writer Katy Steinmetz shares some details about how punctuation is evolving and John Davis had some interesting things to say in a 2009 Slaw post. I also confess that I have this Apostrophes page on as a favourite.

Today’s Tip: if your search term might be more relevant with punctuation, consider truncating your search with a word stemming character.  And asterisk or an exclamation mark are commonly used for truncation.

One place I do not use a lot of punctuation is on Twitter.  The short format requires abbreviation, incomplete sentence structure and creativity to share a whole idea in a puny text box.  Check out tomorrow’s #CALLFuture Twitter chat starting at 1 PM Eastern. Perhaps there is a reason that law librarians didn’t hold this event on National Punctuation Day!


After all these years of reading cases there are still times when I get to the end and think, “Who won?”. This is especially true when parties are numerous and placeholders are used rather than names in a judgment.  A lengthy decision with references to plaintiff, defendant, appellant, respondent, and co-defendant rather than Smith or Jones can be difficult visualize in context. It is also confusing when mutiple points of law are under consideration parties have mixed success.

Today’s tip: chart the outcome of a decision so you have a visual reference.

Create a graph, chart or picture that shows which parties were successful on which points of law. I usually have parties across the top of a grid with issues down the left side. Within each point of law, I either use a checkmark to indicate success or I leave the box blank.

There are many ways to create a visual reference that is helpful in legal research analysis.  Do you have a method to share? Comments are welcome!


Today’s Tip was inspired by the CBA Futures Report at page 22

I have a circle on a page, and within that circle I have the word client. Around that circle are five other circles. One says,‘Is that legal task necessary, or is it waste?’ One says, ‘Is the person performing that legal task the most cost-effective resource?’ Another says, ‘Is the process transparent to the client? Do they know what is being done, why it is being done, and who is doing it? The next one says, ‘Does the process use checklists, templates and technology to help save time and costs?’ And the last one says, ‘Does the process incorporate reporting and communication styles that meet the client’s needs?’”

CBA Futures Report 2014, page 22.

The above is part of a quote from Patricia Olah of BLG and is found under the heading Inovation in Action: Business Processes.

Legal Research is a business process. Does your process have any waste?


It is an excellent time to be involved in the legal information profession.  Rapid changes in legal publishing, legal informtion technologies, web functionality and the accessibility of information make legal research an interesting and exciting challenge.

Yesterday, I told some law school students that I take advantage of vendor offered training sessions regularly. One of the reasons for this is that there are so many improvements, tweaks, and enhancements that are made to each and every legal research tool that it is very easy to get into habits that may limit the usefulness of your gathering task. Another reason is that content moves around.

A fine, and long awaited, example of this is the Canada Law Book Spectrum products migration to the WestlawNext Canada platform. To see what products like Labour Spectrum look like in their new environment visit the WestlawNext Canada home page and hover over the Products menu item for options.


Today’s Tip was inspired by an email exchange with Anne Bowers of the Northumberland County Law Association Library. Anne and I were discussing how we stay current on trends that affect us as law librarians. As we chatted about our personal current awareness activities, I realized that many lawyers rely on the librarians in their circles to help them stay current.

Consider your options for engaging with librarians for current awareness activities. If you have an ‘in house’ library team, let them help you with:

  • monitoring websites
  • helping you choose relevant RSS feeds to subscribe to (and showing you how to use RSS)
  • media clipping and web gathering
  • legislation monitoring
  • forwarding publishers blurbs of substantive or update material
  • copying you on one off material that they know you are interested in based on your last research request

If you don’t have law librarians inside your organization, look to your courthouse library, law association library, law society library, etc.  Many of these have blogs that will help you stay current.

Have another idea or method to stay current? Add a comment.


I like baking.  You gather all the ingredients, put them together according to a recipe and then, if all goes well, you share a tasty treat.  Starting a legal action is a little bit like baking:

  • you start with the facts provided by your client (ingredients)
  • you put them together according to accepted rules (recipe)
  • you serve your claim on the other parties (share)

The recipe for a claim can be tested with a precedent for a pleading.  I was reminded today of how challenging finding a precedent can be. Sources of pleading precedents can be internal to your organization: the KM system, the documents in previous files.  Precedents are also published in texts. The best precedents include assistance for why they are written the way they are, and what a user should be careful of.

Many legal texts will have sample documents that could be in an appendix with the ubiquitous title of “Forms”. There are even commercially available sets of forms and precedents.  LexisNexis Butterworths has several offerings if you search their catalogue with the work precedents and content from CCH Canadian includes some precedents. A helpful text from Carswell is Bullen & Leake & Jacob’s Canadian Precedents of Pleadings.*  Check out the table of contents.

Today’s Tip: Think about how to execute your pleading recipe by looking to precedents.

*Full disclosure: many of my colleagues at Field Law contribute to this work.