All Our Research Tips
Find Out About New Regulations Before They’re Published in the Gazette
Many lawyers and legal researchers keep a mental note to look out for new regulations under specific Acts or new proclamations bringing into force an Act of interest. As Shaunna Mireau pointed out in this October 2011 tip though, if you’re only keeping an eye on new issues of the relevant Gazettes, you’ll be days or even weeks behind those who are also keeping an eye on orders in council. Remember, most regulations, proclamations, and orders begin life as orders in council. Then, if required, the OIC is later published in either part of the Gazette. So, stay on top of new regulations by looking at orders in council first.
I’ve compiled a handy reference list below for the jurisdictions I work in most often. Chime in the comments if you have a tip to share about your own early warning system for your province’s regulations or proclamations.
- Federal: Federal orders in council are posted to the Privy Council Orders in Council database as they are signed throughout the week. Do a date-limited blank search for the past two weeks in this database so see the latest OIC’s.
- British Columbia: New regulations are listed in the BC Regulations Bulletin every Thursday and orders in council are posted to the BC Laws website as they are signed throughout the prior week.
- Alberta: Orders in council are posted to the Alberta orders in council webpage on the day or the day after they’re signed throughout the month.
- Ontario: Regulations are posted to e-Laws, here, as they are filed, and extracts from proclamations are listed in the e-Laws Proclamations table as each OIC is signed. (My thanks to the very helpful Susan Merdzan, Manager of e-Laws with the Ontario Attorney General, for confirming this order of operations.)
- Northwest Territories: Registered regulations and orders are not made available in advance. (Thank you to Bev Speight of the NWT Department of Justice Library and her colleagues at the Legislation Division at GNWT for confirming this for me.)
- Nunavut: OIC’s are not made available separately in advance, however often the Government will put out a press release with a heads up if a regulation or proclamation is going to have effect before the next issue of the Gazette is published. (My thanks to Jenny Thornhill, Manager of Court Library Services for the Nunavut Court of Justice for the tip about press releases.)
— Bronwyn Guiton (@BronwynMaye)
Avoid the Adverb
The novelist Graham Greene – a master of lean, mean prose – called adverbs ‘beastly’. (In spite of the -ly ending, that’s an adjective.)
Think of the adverb ‘quite’, which is either ambiguous or weak: ‘quite good’ can mean ‘better than expected’, ‘something a bit less than good’, ‘actually good’, ‘very good’. In any case, it lacks oomph.
Or indeed ‘very’, which the nineteenth-century newspaper editor William Allen White called ‘the weakest word in the English language’. Very true.
In legal writing, adverbs are often used as qualifiers or fillers. I’m thinking of words like ‘generally’, ‘clearly’, ‘unfortunately’.
In opinions, ‘generally’ may have a valid place as a signal of potential uncertainty in the law (although even there it can be overused, when it’s a substitute for actual analysis). In an article or blog, try to eliminate ‘generally’. You’re not writing an opinion (and there will be a boilerplate disclaimer saying that your piece is not to be taken as legal advice anyway), so all it does is soften your impact.
If you have to say ‘clearly’, odds are the point isn’t clear at all. The word is just filler – or an attempt to make the best of a bad job.
Even worse is ‘unfortunately’, which I see a lot in student memos (‘Unfortunately, there appears to be no case law on point …’). It’s not unfortunate, it just is.
And please don’t misuse ‘literally’ as mild form of emphasis. It means ‘as opposed to figuratively’. It would be correct to say ‘I literally have to run’ if the starting gun for your 10-km race is about to go off; incorrect if all you mean is ‘I must go’.
As linguistics prof Geoffrey Nunberg puts it, ‘Adverbs tend to show people at their worst – posturing, embellishing, apologizing, or just being mealy-mouthed.’
Next tip: apostrophe catastrophes.
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Use CanLII to Compare Two Versions of an Act
Most CanLII users know that CanLII provides point-in-time versions of legislation. However, one feature of CanLII that is less well known is that it allows users to compare two versions of an act.
It is straightforward to compare two versions of an act on CanLII:
- Find the act you wish to compare the versions of.
- Underneath the name of the act is a list of point-in-time versions of that act. Select the two versions you want to compare. (They don’t have to be consecutive.)
- Click on COMPARE.
The older of the two acts will be on the left hand side of the page and the newer will be on the right. Text removed from the act is highlighted in red; text added to the act is indicated in green. Use the arrow keys on the top right of the page to move through the changes.
Note that this does not work for longer British Columbia acts (such as the Motor Vehicle Act) because the Queen’s Printer splits them into multiple parts.
–Susannah Tredwell (@hannasus)
What do I mean by this? Pairs of words that lawyers routinely use together, but would be better not to.
These pairs may once (in the late Middle Ages?) have had distinct meanings but now really don’t.
And even in the Middle Ages they may not have: many of these ‘coupled synonyms’ (in Richard Wydick‘s phrase) join an English word with its (Old) French equivalent, in a belt-and-suspenders manoeuvre.
Like ‘free and clear’, which combines the synonymous Old English freo and the Old French cler.
Null and void [how about ‘of no effect’?]
No force or effect [ditto]
Save and except [one or the other, not both]
Full and complete [same comment]
Unless and until [this drives me crazy]
Separate and apart [except as a term of art in family law]
Cease and desist [plain old ‘stop’ will do just fine]
These formulations are redundant and inelegant, they don’t reflect how normal people (like clients) actually speak, and they make your writing look fussy.
Next: avoid the adverb.
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Stay on Top of Changes to Specific Webpages With ChangeDetection.com
ChangeDetection.com is a tool I recommend to help you monitor webpages and be notified automatically if they’ve been updated. No one wants to be sitting around refreshing a web page until that important agreement gets uploaded and goes public. This tool will watch the page for you and email you when it’s updated. Being the first one to share that sort of update with a colleague or client often pays off with new work or with increased trust and respect.
If I wanted to be notified of updates to a Government of BC page listing all current agreements between them and, for example, the Stó:lo Nation, I would plug the page URL into ChangeDetection.com and set it to email me whenever there is a change to the page. Another example of a webpage that may be of interest to monitor is this federal Ministry of Finance page of all open consultations with the public (which could lead to new legislation). Typically, ChangeDetection.com checks pages once per day for changes.
Of course, many websites already have an email subscription feature that emails you when a new document is added. ChangeDetection.com offers no particular benefit in cases like that. For example, the BC Government press release website has a great email subscription for notification of new press releases. However, there are also many sites where the email subscription option is difficult to find or absent altogether. (I’m looking at you, Federal Court practice directives.) In those cases, I don’t hesitate to copy the URL into my account on ChangeDetection.com.
So, next time you come across a webpage and think “I should bookmark this and check on it from time to time”, consider also adding it to ChangeDetection.com. Few of us have the follow through to actually go back and check that page regularly, so why not let ChangeDetection.com do it for you? Just set it and [you won’t] forget it!
My sincere thanks to Debbie Millward who first shared this site with me.
— Bronwyn Guiton (@BronwynMaye)
Post-script for techies:
ChangeDetection.com isn’t just an RSS reader with a push notification feature for when a blog has been updated. That sort of notification of new pages is fairly common. ChangeDetection.com actually maintains a log of recent changes to an existing page and allows you to see the difference between any two versions of it. Since any and all changes to the page will be detected, occasionally this makes for some irrelevant notifications. I fondly recall the day last summer when the Government of BC changed every last “and” to “&” on their website menus. These are the little changes that you’ll still get notified about and it’s up to you to decide how much of this noise is worth the convenience of being the first to hear about a relevant new agreement or initiative.
Catchy Headlines and Openers
Just as blogs get more readers than e-mails, articles with catchy headlines and enticing openers are more likely to be looked at than, well, boring ones.
Here is a post from LinkedIn that illustrates the point:
A recent case from the ONSC clarifies the law on whether municipalities can regulate boathouses and whether the Building Code Act applies to same, finding that (i) municipalities have jurisdiction to zone Ontario lakes and apply zoning by-laws to lakes, regulating construction of boathouses and other structures; and (ii) the Building Code Act applies to such structures, where not otherwise prohibited by the by-laws and the Public Lands Act.
Descriptive and relatively clear (despite the legalese) – but so dull! Especially when the underlying facts are so good: Toronto lawyer objects to a neighbouring cottager’s rogue boathouse, municipality and province refuse to step in and regulate, lawyer sues governments, judge clarifies ‘murky waters’ (his phrase) of planning rules for boathouse construction.
Or consider these examples from Lexology, which tell the reader nothing and provide little incentive to find out more:
US Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System approves final rule amending Regulation D
Shearman & Sterling LLP
On June 18, 2015, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System adopted a final rule amending Regulation D (Reserve Requirements of Depository…
“Reasonable time” in FRCP 60(b) is measured between notice and filing.
Jenner & Block
In Bouret-Echevarría v. Caribbean Aviation Maintenance Corp.,784 F.3d 37 (1st Cir. 2015) (No. 13-2549), the First Circuit addressed the…
Ironworkers Dist. Council of Phila. & Vicinity Ret. & Pension Plan v. Andreotti, C.A. No. 9714-VCG (Del. Ch. May 8, 2015) (Glasscock, V.C.)
Potter Anderson & Corroon LLP
In this memorandum opinion, the Court of Chancery granted a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s derivative complaint under Court of Chancery Rule 23.1, and…
Probably nothing could save that one from Jenner & Block, but you get the point. Lexology just shows a headline and the opening words of your piece, so make them enticing.
And let’s rewrite the Ontario update along these lines: Judge clears up ‘murky waters’ – you can’t just build a boathouse wherever and however you want.
Next tip: gruesome twosomes.
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Deciphering Legal Citations
Legal citations like to pack the largest amount of information in the smallest amount of space. However, if you are not familiar with the abbreviation for a specific law journal or reporter, it can be tricky figuring out what is being referred to from a few scant letters. Adding to the confusion is that one journal may be referred to by different abbreviations and the same abbreviation may be used for multiple law reports. (For example, does the B in B.L.R. refer to Business or Building or Burma?)
Fortunately there are a number of resources to assist in deciphering these abbreviations.
Donald Raistrick’s Index to legal citations and abbreviations, 4th ed. (London : Sweet & Maxwell, 2013) provides an extensive (if not exhaustive) list of legal abbreviations.
Appendix C of the McGill Guide lists the most common abbreviations for law journals.
If you are looking for an online resource, the Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations lists legal abbreviations for publications from over 295 jurisdictions.
–Susannah Tredwell (@hannasus)
My first tip is simple: get writing!
Or, more to the point, get blogging.
Blogged content has high visibility and much higher readership than content that is distributed by e-mail. Unless you have a very targeted and well-maintained e-mail distribution list, it’s unlikely that a publication sent by e-mail will be opened (much less read) by more than 5% of its recipients.
Contrast that with material that is posted on a blog, which can easily get views in the four digits. Blog posts also have the advantage of being picked up the aggregators (LinkedIn, Lexology, Mondaq, JD Supra), which widen your readership even further. By way of example, Lexology once told me that a blog post of mine had been read by someone in the airport lounge in Perth, Australia. (The poor sod must have been at a loose end.)
So what to blog about? Recent developments in the law, of course, but give them a practical spin. Don’t just announce some new decision or legislation, explain why it’s relevant to your clients or potential clients. Give your perspective on industry trends or market developments. A fresh take on things is more likely to attract readers.
And on that note, my next tip is Catchy headlines and openers.
–Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)
Noting Up Tip
I shared some tips about technology skills with some fine folks via webinar with CBA Manitoba’s Legal Research Section recently. One of the tech skills was about noting up:
Note up cases for judicial history as well as consideration of decisions by other cases and legal commentary using multiple database sources (fee and free)
The tip was about the way to execute performing a noteup using CanLII, WestlawNext Canada and LexisNexis Quicklaw.
Melanie R. Bueckert, LL.B., LL.M., Legal Research Counsel at the Manitoba Court of Appeal offered this excellent addition:
The only thing I would have added, if we had time, was regarding noting-up. Personally, I always right-click on the cases listed on the note-up screen & open them up in a separate window. I started doing this some time ago, because I found you would lose your filtering if you just used the browser’s back button. It also allows you to stay in the same place in your results list.
My thanks to Melanie for the excellent advice!
Watch for New Tools
Today’s Tip was inspired by a news release that crossed my email:
Canadian startup launches law search engine
Legal technology puts 5 million pages of laws from around the world
(September 24, 2015, Toronto) – Canadian startup, Global-Regulation Inc., has just launched a law search engine that enables searching 225,000+ laws from the European Union, United States, Canada, China, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ireland, Germany, Japan and other countries.
“Our software automatically translates laws into English so our users can search the world’s laws,” says Founder Addison Cameron-Huff. “Automatic translation makes the world’s laws instantly accessible to researchers, regulators, lawyers and businesspeople.”
Global-Regulation emerged out of research at Osgoode School of Law (York University) in Toronto, Canada. The two Founders are Nachshon Goltz, an Israeli lawyer turned Ph.D. candidate at Osgoode Law School and Addison Cameron-Huff, a Canadian tech lawyer and award-winning programmer. Mr. Goltz, who is completing his Ph.D. in regulation, knows that, “Google does not cater to government regulators.”
“We are helping the people who write our laws by giving them the tools they know they need but no one is making,” notes Mr. Cameron-Huff.
The founders aim to make the world’s laws searchable in order to help regulators make better regulations and lawyers better understand the international landscape.
Global-Regulation has 100,000 more laws in the pipeline and aim to have more than half a million laws available in 2016. The current database would exceed 5 million printed pages and would be a stack as high as the CN Tower.
The service is available for limited free use by the public at www.global-regulation.com.
If you are aware of new tools you will always be able to judge your efficiency in retrieving an answer to a legal research question.
The global-regulation.com site is pretty cool too.