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All Our Research Tips

This tip was inspired after answering a question from memory that I should have documented back in 2009.

As legal researchers, we find nuggets of useful information from sources that are both transparent and obscure.  Transparent because they are the logical source of the information we seek and obscure in that if we hadn’t connected with exactly the right person at the exactly right time we would not necessarily have found the information in the form or with the context that we did.

Document your sources in detail. Don’t trust that your memory will be available (or working properly) in the moment that the details about past research need to be unearthed. There is nothing wrong with a memo to file (or to your general research tips file that you share with colleagues) about how you found something.

A snippet of Ani DiFranco song lyric “Each breath is recycled from someone else’s lungs” could be rescripted for legal research this way, “Each question’s recycled at some point or another”.  Make your future work easier by documenting today’s details.


I am having a wonderful time in Maui this week with my family.  Today’s Tip is inspired by my Aunt Betty who reminded me that it is important that OTHER PEOPLE know what you are asking for.

You may know that the Hawaiian language uses fewer letters than English.  I confess to being completely baffled by local pronunciation.  Betty, on the other hand has visited this beautiful part of the world several times, and has mastered the phonetic discrepancies that twist my tongue.

This is the root of it:

a is always ahhhh
e is the long A
i  is eee
o is oh
u is oooo

When asking for directions to somewhere, you don’t want to be misunderstood and sent to the wrong town.

Just like legal research!  If you don’t understand what you are looking for, you will ask databases (or partners) for search results that don’t match what you really need.

Today’s second tip, don’t get so excited by seeing fishes in nature that you swim on your back while snorkeling.


You spend good time and brain power creating a beautiful research work product. Then what happens?

Today’s Tip: think about where your words go.

Today’s Tip is brought to you by the office of my Outlook Junk Folder in conjunction with my Spam filter and my email rules. These offices are not hungry for YOUR content. With the extra efforts being made by organizations to comply with CASL, items are being scooped into spam quarantines that are not really spam.

This legal research tip is intended for readers as well as writers. Best of luck.


Today’s Tip was inspired by John DiGilio who edits the Pinhawk Librarian News Digest. John noted a post at RIPS Law Librarian Blog titled The Art of Delegating. The post has great food for thought for anyone sharing work.

Let me start here: I hate the phrase ‘pushing work down’ – it does not reflect the benefit of sharing work with the delegate. The benefits of personally contributing to a team effort, cross training for broader niche expertise among a group and balancing workflows are well covered in the post.

Now to the tip part.  When delegating legal research tasks, remember to:

  • share the facts that lead to the question (or tell someone where they can find the story of the file)
  • relay expectations, including:
    • time lines
    • search cost restrictions
    • volume of answer required (i.e. do you want a search from Magna Carta forward or the last 6 months of case law)
  • explain what you already know OR do not want them to spend time on
  • clarify how you are going to use the research output(send to a judge may mean different language/citation style than send to a client)
  • be specific about format requirements (a hyperlink to a CanLII case or a Word version of a case with highlighting for colour printing and binding to file with the court)
  • if you want the research to be approached using a specific path, make that clear
  • seek confirmation that instructions are understood and follow up

Remember that with delegating, the more information you give, the better the result you will receive. Don’t forget to ask for and give feedback. That will make your next task sharing moment even better.


During a dinner table discussion of paper less practices recently, a friend praised the value of print legislation.  He practices tax litigation, and I was questioning him about the various eBook versions of available in that area.  He reminded me that the speed of cross referencing several sections is enhanced with the finger in book method as opposed to the click and return, especially when you have multiple sections referring to one another.

When I think about using legislation to answer a legal research question an the pattern that I used most frequently, I have to agree.

For the answer to a legislation question print often wins the day.   Finding the first thread may be faster with a word search, and for sharing, electronic is clearly out front. In the race for meaning though, print is still frequently first over the finish line.

Let the debate begin.


Lyonette Louis-Jacques posted some great strategies for finding an English translation of case law at Slaw. Today’s short legal research tip: Read Lyo’s Slaw post “How to Find Cases in English Translation, Revisited


There is some rumbling from Alberta this week. The Alberta Courts are no longer publishing decisions on their website, but rather redirecting visitors to CanLII.  The rumbling comes from the seeming abruptness of this move, and the worry over whether decisions will be available as quickly for browsing on CanLII as they were on the Courts website – not about the change itself.

As a process improvement professional, I am the last person who would make a negative comment about change.  How a change project is executed is another matter.

Having CanLII as the primary public source for  Alberta Court decisions does mean that there are a couple of things that users external to the Courts will have to do.

  1. Update any links to judgments that point to that are on your website, on your intranet pages, in your documents, or in your internal procedures and training manuals.
  2. Move to RSS feeds from CanLII for Alberta decisions – you can even limit your feeds by subject

A cheat for updating your links

CanLII uses a static pattern for individual case links, bless them! It follows the pattern: website/language preference/jurisdiction/neutral court reference/doc/year/neutral cite no spaces/neutral cite.html

If your old URL is

your new URL will be

There are decisions from the Alberta Courts that are not available on CanLII, so you will have to test all your links.


I have been reading in the area of Lean Six Sigma lately and have come to the conclusion that good legal research practices and good project management skills have wide overlap. An excellent article from the May 2014 issue of Quality Progress by H. F. Ken Machado titled Plan of Attack: Managing the anatomy of your key projects is fundamental to organizational success has reinforced my conclusion.

Typically, the organizations cannot afford to work on all priority requirements that demand attention. At the same time, certain projects stand out because they are fundamental to business success. For those projects, the conditions for success must be formally and fully defined.

Typically, the legal researcher cannot afford to work on all priority requirements that demand attention. At the same time, certain issues stand out because they are fundamental to client success. For those projects, the conditions for success must be formally and fully defined.

Today’s Tip: treat your legal research question like a project – plan your research. Stick to your path before you follow the side trails that are revealed as you travel. Planning your research should help you find the most time and cost effective path to answering the question.


For the last 3 legal research tips of 2014 I decided to give my opinion of the 3 most critical personal characteristics for being a successful legal researcher. I think the most important personal characteristic is integrity.

Integrity means that you do what you promise. You are ethical, honest, decent, and appropriate. You ask for help when you need to, regardless of what your ego suggests. You are dependable.  If you provide an answer, it is as correct and complete as it can possibly be and you are open about limits to your capabilities.

Integrity in answering a legal research problem means that the truth of your analysis is irreproachable. If you make a mistake, you own it.  Your mistakes are never purposeful. It may be difficult to predict your ability to meet deadlines for legal research answers, so integrity means that you persist in learning skills that will help you maintain your integrity in providing correct information efficiently and effectively.  Let’s face it, there is a huge amount of information and it is easier and easier to find data that can be used for an answer; integrity keeps us seeking the best answer for our client.

I think integrity is the most critical personal characteristic for legal research, and most other life questions.

May your 2015 be filled with integrity – yours and everyone you connect with as well.  Happy New Year


For the last 3 legal research tips of 2014 I decided to give my opinion of the 3 most critical personal characteristics for being a successful legal researcher. I think the second most important personal characteristic is persistence.

Persistence means that you are devoted to an activity, persevering, tenacious, dedicated, determined, unwavering. You are intent on answering the question.

If you are not persistent in answering a legal research problem, there is potential to find an answer rather than the best answer for your client.  It will be easy to take the path of least resistance to an answer.  Let’s face it, there is a huge amount of information that can be used to finding an answer but what we always seek is the best answer for our client.

I think persistence is a critical personal characteristic for legal research.

Next week – characteristic #1