All Our Research Tips
Happy National Punctuation Day
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 grammarbook.com 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!
Tell the Story in Pictures
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!
Wasted Legal Research
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?
Next Sources and Research Habits
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 schoold 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.
Find a Pleading Precedent
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.
Crowdsourcing Tribunal Decision Sources
A question and some answers came across the CALL-L listserv this week about sources for BC Utilities Commission Decisions. Like some other tribunals, the commission decisions are not available for searching on CanLII, LexisNexis Quicklaw
or Westlaw Next Canada. There is a basic index function on the Commission website, but it was not adequate for the needs of the person posting the question.
Today’s Tip is thanks to the members of the CALL-L list who shared their knowledge with the crowd.
Anne Whelan of Mercer shared British Columbia Utilities Commission Online Document Library – a source that reports it is “currently being reorganized and updated”.
Jennifer McNenly of Fasken Martineau shared this useful tip:
You can try a Google site search on the decisions folder as per my example below. But you should also browse by year prior to 1980. Those early decisions are just referenced and the electronic decision is not actually on the site.
Lists like CALL-L and others are excellent avenues to learn from the experiences of others. Do you crowdsource Sources?
Update Note: I learned at some of the British Columbia Utilities Commission decisions (304 of them at a recent count) ARE available with WestlawNext Canada. Thanks to Carswell Reference Support for adding their information to the crowd!
Reflect Before You Act
Movie enthusiasts may recognize that the title of Today’s Tip is a quote from my personal Disney favourite: Mulan. I much prefer this modern interpretation of the Admonitions Scroll. Reflect before you act is excellent advice for many things, including legal research.
Cathie Best at her Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research agrees that “Plan and organize your research” is the first step in the legal research process. How can your reflect before you act on your legal research question?
Start your research memo by writing the facts as you understand them and then skip to the bottom of you document and work on your “sources consulted” list. Include the textbooks you are going to consult and what you are going to look for in the indices or tables of contents. Include your plan for the terms you will look for in Halsbury’s Laws of Canada and the CED. Write out your search strategy including your search string and plan for narrowing or expanding your results (remember to work broad to narrow for cost effective commercial database searching). Think about legislation that might apply to your issue. Think about which source to look at first – perhaps your firm has a research memo bank.
Often, I write with too many commas. A comma is a beautiful thing, in fact, all punctuation is necessary for readers to understand a piece of text. Just ask the Associated Press who sent this punctuation-less tweet:
Then there was a clarification:
Today’s Tip: Think about your legal research responses. Are you missing a comma?
Do You Need to Read That Document on Paper?
First let me say that I really like reading on screen for business purposes. Second, let me contradict that by complaining about my aged eyes and how I keep pulling my monitors closer to my face. Third, let me tell you how much I enjoy reading novels in print when that is a viable alternative (not traveling, my public library has a print copy without waiting for an inter-library loan). Fourthly, let me give a hat tip to John DiGilio who noted a post on Lawyerist.com that inspired Today’s Tip.
Scientific American looked at some studies comparing paper vs. screen reading and concluded that “when it comes to intensively reading long pieces of plain text, paper and ink may still have the advantage.”
My take on paper vs. screen when doing legal research is totally unscientific. When skimming through research results I like to use the navigation of seeing my terms highlighted, changing the sort order of results and quickly jumping past irrelevant hits to the next document. When digesting the now selected content, if documents are long, I sometimes choose to print and read from paper.
Today’s Tip: be aware of how you interact with text and make conscious decisions about how you need to work.