All Our Research Tips
Watch the Law Library Blog
The Law Society of Saskatchewan has a new blog.
“Legal Sourcery” helps you navigate through the jumble of legal resources. Follow us for useful legal research tricks, interesting legal research news and what’s happening at the Library.
Law library blogs offer research tips, highlights of the specific resources they have to offer, and interesting polls.
Law libraries in many jurisdictions and from many library types have blogs. Check out the Legal Research & Law Libraries Blogs category at lawblogs.ca.
If you like the posts from Legal Sourcery, come to Winnipeg May 25-28 for the Canadian Association of Law Libraries annual conference. I guarantee you will have an opportunity to meet Melanie Hodges Neufeld, Director of Legal Resources, Law Society of Saskatchewan and Legal Sourcery blogger.
Use 3rd Party Sites
I absolutely love resources like legisalture and parliament websites that offer details about current and historical legislation and it’s progress. I also love government websites that offer the full text of various government publications. Sometimes those sites don’t offer the quick way to exactly what you need.
Today’s Tip: Don’t be afraid to use 3rd party collections of things rather than their original source.
Think about all of the Open Data initiatives – open data websites collect from a variety of sources into a clearinghouse website. Like a library but without a decent reference desk – great for experienced gatherers who know what they are looking for though. I recently peeked at openparliament.ca which is an excellent umbrella search tool.
How to Read Case Citations
An important legal research tanslation skill is the ability to look at a case citation and understand what it means. Today’s Tip is in honour of the forthcoming 8th edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation.
There are plenty of excellent resources on legal citation, but these tips will help when you decipher citations:
- round brackets at the beginning of a citation give you the year that the decision was released
- square brackets at the beginning of a citation mean that you need the year in order to find the correct volume of the reporter to locate the case
- digests case citations look the same as citations for full text decisions (ACWS is a digest – All Canada Weekly Summaries; so is AWLD – Alberta Weekly Law Digest)
- neutral citations are generally only available for decisions from 1998 and newer
- if you can’t figure out what is being cited, search the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations
- cases sometimes change names as they move through various levels of court
Did I miss any tips?
Look a Little Harder
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.
Check the Facts
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.
Measure Research Time
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
Know What Things Cost
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:
- Is there a fee arrangement that applies to the file being worked on
- Will he client accept research disbursements
- Is there a legal project budget that the research costs should fit into
- 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.
Use Your Camera
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