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All Our Research Tips

Today’s Tip is inspired by my colleague Jane Symons. As we occasionally do, Jane zipped out to another library to borrow a book for one of our lawyers – yes folks, print is still necessary for legal research.  She was looking for something in a government documents collection – yes folks, that is correct, not all government documents are on the interweb. The item was not where it was supposed to be on the shelf.

Jane says the library gods were smiling on her when after carefully scanning each item on the surrounding shelves she happened to glance a several stacks away and noticed the item on the shelf.  I say she was practicing excellent librarianship by not stopping her search when the item wasn’t where it was expected to be.

Never give up, never surrender. While that phrase quotes an ongoing joke from a fictional TV show, it does reflect the persistence that searchers should bring to legal research tasks.


This post first appeared on Slaw July 2, 2009 and it is still relevant advice.

In this world of super fast document retrieval it is sometimes important to remember the basics. I was just asked for a decision where the style of cause and the citation both contained errors. The “help I can’t find this case” is usually one of my favourite problems. This Thursday after a mid-week Canada Day off is a lot like a Monday.

The citation that was given to me was a 1983 case from the O.L.R.s – obviously that was incorrect as the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviationreports that the Ontario Law Reports was published between 1901-1931 only. Rather than plugging in a citation in to the for fee electronic research service of your choice, remember to check the facts. (Yes I will be writing off the find fee).

The style of cause had a spelling error. What I should have remembered to do once I identified that the citation had an error is browse the Canadian Case Citations or the Canadian Abridgment Table of Cases for the style of cause to identify the case. Browsing a compact list like the CCC would have quickly showed a close match to the case name AND provided the proper citation. Knowing that the good research skills of the lawyer who gave me the problem would have included a full text search on CanLII for elements of the style of cause as a full text proximity search should have been a clue that there was a typo.

Just a few tips for this fine summer Thursday.

Enjoy this Winter Wednesday research tip redux.


Today’s Tip: wait with patience.

I often find myself using curse filled phrases when everything (websites, videos, my Blu-ray player, my Starbucks app) is too slow to load. That little rotating circle symbol, the hour glass, even PayPal’s rounded square that ticks away while the web does its thing drive me nuts, nuts, nuts. When my children slide the symbol to answer my phone calls and don’t speak immediately, we have (annoying to them) conversations about appropriate telephone etiquette.

This 4:11 YouTube clip of comedian Louis C.K. with Conan O’Brien “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” shared by Jason Thomas in his LegalTech 2014 keynote was a fantastic reminder to have a little patience.


One of the things we don’t talk about much on the legal research side of things here at Slaw Tips are Regulations.  Regulations are a form of delegated legislation made in the exercise of powers conferred by a statute. Regulations are the how to a Statute’s what. and are usually found online attached to the act that they are made from.

A fairly common question arises about the in force date of a regulation. In Alberta, the day it is filed with the Registrar of Regulations, unless a later day is specified. For federal regulations, section 9 of the Statutory Instruments Act reminds us that most federal regulations also come into force on the date that they are registered.

Regulations can be simple or complex and there can be a well documented process for creating them.  The bottom line is that though regulations are subordinate delegated legislation, they are still law.


It is a tricky thing to be asked a question that has a research component and be able to estimate how much time it will take to find and communicate an answer. Something that helps with estimating is knowing how much time a similar task encompased. Since, like most service industries, the legal industry tracks its time to help identify pricing structures and service value, why not use those time tracking devices to measure research time tasks and learn from the measuring?

Check out the Uniform Task Based Management System (UTBMS) – standards that were created to give a structure to time tracking and also enable most eBilling systems.  There is an excellent overview of UTBMS and how it has rolled out in Canada on the Canadian Bar Association PracticeLink site.

Using UTBMS (or some consistently applied system) to measure research time is a step closer to better prediction of how long research actually takes.

Some basic time predictions:

  • Noting up a case for judicial history: .1
  • Noting up a case for judicial consideration: .2 to .4
  • Identifying the in force date for a statute: .1
  • Writing a memo outlining the quantum of damages for a broken elbow: it depends .7 to 2


Legal research is only one piece of the larger part of answering a clients legal problem.  With  the growing trend of fixed fee pricing, alternative fee arrangements, and other pre-arranged cost structures for legal work, it is more important than ever for a researcher to know several things that don’t relate to the problem their research is attempting to answer:

  1. Is there a fee arrangement that applies to the file being worked on
  2. Will he client accept research disbursements
  3. Is there a legal project budget that the research costs should fit into
  4. Will recorded time  for the researcher be billed

Just as lawyers should talk to their clients about the budget before legal work, so to should researchers speak to their stakeholders.




Ah innovation.  For those of you with a smart phone in your pocket, remember that you have a camera on your device.  Why do I remind you of this?  Your phone (or tablet) camera can be used to:

  • snap a picture of footnote citations
  • take a ‘screen shot’ of a live presentation
  • “scan” or copy a page of text from a print resource

Hat Tip to my colleague Mark Raven-Jackson.

App recommendation: Scanner Pro on my iPad works great and de-skews for the curve of thick volumes of the Canada Gazette – just saying. Cost $2.99


Back in the summer an Alberta bill was proclaimed which caused the name of a decision making tribunal to change. For legal researchers, the important task is knowing what to look for regarding content, and often this means that you have to know who you are looking for.

This tribunal, now called the Alberta Energy Regulator has an excellent website with good methods for accessing their current and previous decisions. Decisions from this tribunal are also available with great coverage in LexisNexis Quicklaw.

Hat Tip for today’s tip goes to Quicklaw, especially for sending out content announcements like this one from November 14, 2013:

Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board Has New Name

In response to the Responsible Energy Development Act, proclaimed in June, the Alberta Energy Regulator succeeds the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board and takes on all its regulatory functions.

Given this change, please note that the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board source on Quicklaw has been renamed Alberta Energy Regulator and now includes decisions rendered by both tribunals.


Today’s Tip is about our languages thanks to a tweet from Susannah Tredwell, Manager of Library Service at Davis LLP in Vancouver.

Susannah shared news about TERMIUM Plus (R), the Canadian Government’s terminology and linguistic data bank.

What is in this data bank? According to the site:

  • Almost 4 million English and French terms;
  • More than 18,000 Portuguese terms;
  • More than 200,000 Spanish terms;
  • More than 4,000 monthly updates;
  • Accurate, specialized and up-to-date terminology;
  • The Government of Canada´s standardization tool;
  • 17 diverse and user-friendly writing tools.

A quadralingual databank gives the precise English, French or Spanish or Portuguese equivalent for everything from plants, diseases, machines and tools. TERMIUM Plus also contains the meanings of very specialized terms and offers a writing assistance tool. Legal terms are included in the data bank with very specific source cites and context provided with complementary documents for many records.

There is a companion app that offers the ability to to find terms in both official languages available Apple and Blackberry devices and a mobile friendly web app for other devices.

Slawyers who need to ensure the accuracy of terms and phrases should check it out.

Thanks Susannah!


It is pretty easy to remember to look for legislation that applies to an issue. In the legal research card game legislation trumps case law unless an argument can be made that the legislation is wrong or should in turn be trumped by some other legislation - the Charter is a Joker.

Some legal research arguments require a searcher to be aware of policies.  All kinds of policy references appear in judicial decisions including this reference to Peter Hogg at para 107 of Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2013 SCC 72 (CanLII).

The doctrines of overbreadth, disproportionality and arbitrariness are all at bottom intended to address what Hamish Stewart calls “failures of instrumental rationality”, by which he means that the Court accepts the legislative objective, but scrutinizes the policy instrument enacted as the means to achieve the objective. If the policy instrument is not a rational means to achieve the objective, then the law is dysfunctional in terms of its own objective.

Today’s Tip: Remember to look for policies. Thanks to the Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta for their email reminders of policy updates for inspiring this tip.