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technology  research  practice

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Sarah Glassmeyer recently posted on Slaw about The Future of Legal Practice and Technology for Law Professors. Her opening salvo:

One of my pet peeves is when people throw around the word “technology” as a catch all to mean anything that can or will involve a computer. A common pattern is “In X number of years, this task will be replaced by TECHNOLOGY.” The speakers very rarely get into specifics as to when technology they mean. Personally, I like to amuse myself by replacing “technology” in these statements with “magic fairies.” Actually, I think fairies are more likely to exist than some technology that is universally adopted and solves myriad problems.

Sarah’s post goes on to focus on technology skills and technology concepts that she recommends for law professors. I think that there are technology concepts and skills that legal researchers should have. Today’s Tip is about technology skills that I think are necessary for legal researchers. Skills are things that a legal researcher should be able to do or use.

  1. Search a library catalogue database to find an appropriate set of textbooks on a topic
  2. 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)
  3. Copy and paste with keyboard shortcuts
  4. Sort in word processor tables and spreadsheets and be able to use methods other than eyeballs to identify duplicates in lists
  5. Add hyperlinks to documents
  6. Read a URL and understand where it is going
  7.  Create documents answering a research question that make use of styles
  8. Search statute databases to locate current and historical legislation
  9. Use RSS feeds to keep current
  10. Use advanced search techniques of Google and other search engines (search within a site, by date,  for words in page titles)

Next week’s tip will be about the technology related concepts  a legal researcher should be able to understand.

Which tech skills should be added to this list?


I despise long deadlines for legal research projects. Give me a complex project that has to be completed by the end of the week over a complex project that I must pick away at over a month or two any day.  Why? With a longer project I must use formal project management – on myself.

Project managing a short deadline individual research question is easy to mentally manage by scripting the activity as “the research process”.  To be clear, I am speaking of the type of legal research that is often assigned to junior lawyers, law students or law librarians. In reality, the legal research process that is used to answer a specific assigned question IS project management. There is a defined objective, scope, constraints, a plan, execution of the plan, monitoring of performance of the plan through the activity, and reviewing the completed product.

A longer deadline often indicates a more complex task so there is a compelling reason to lay out the project management piece of the action in a more formal way.  Writing down the plan for a multi-pronged piece of legal research, checking in with delegates (and yourself) to ensure scope and timelines are in line, and all of the other bits of the project management diligence FEEL like they get in the way of doing the work which is the fun part for most of us.

Today’s Legal Research Tip: remind yourself that every legal research question is really a project; let the project management – managing the process of getting to an answer – be part of the fun.


A post from the daily blog from Harvard Law Schools Program on Negotiation offer this advice regarding when negotiators assume too much:

One pitfall is that decision makers often overlook others’ viewpoints. When we do take others’ thinking into account, we tend to assume that they know as much as we do. For this reason, marketing experts are generally worse than non-expert consumers at predicting the beliefs, values, and tastes of consumers.

Similarly, individuals who correctly solve a problem overestimate the percentage of their peers who will be just as successful solving the same problem .

This advice resonates for answering a legal research question as well.

  • how much data is the asker looking for
  • what is the depth and breadth of the answer expected
  • where is the starting point that is expected

Everyone knows how the word ass+u+me breaks apart. Make sure you manage expectations by not assuming too much.


I’ve been travelling in the Maritime this pas week. Like many places, if you are unfamiliar with the particulars of a place, sometimes signs make absolutely no sense.  For instance, the subtle differences in Sydney River, North Sydney, Sydney Mines and Sydney can be just a bit confusing when viewing a map that shows New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Quebec.

One of the best ways to navigate is to ask directions. It helps put the scale and scope into proper perspective.

This works for legal research too.

Happy travels.


Today’s Tip, with thanks to Michel-Adrien Sheppard for the idea, is a reminder to lawyers looking for CPD opportunities to look to law librarians.  We can help with identifying interesting opportunities that cross our desks via publishers blurbs, calls for conference papers, media and social media monitoring.  In addition to those indirect, guide on the side types of aid, we are also offering CPD credits to lawyers at OUR educational conferences.

The final Keynote Session at the recently concluded Canadian Association of Law Libraries Conference was an address on cyberbullying by Wayne Mackay.  An excellent discussion with lot’s of additional  commentary provided through attendee tweets at #callacbd2015.


Yesterday at Slaw, I wrote about preparedness. Today’s Tip is to be perfectly prepared before you start your legal research question.  I think that there are two steps to perfect legal research preparedness. Please comment if you agree or disagree!

Preparedness Step 1 – Understand the question.

  • put the question in context by review text books, loose-leaf services (or – my preference – eBooks that started out as loose-leaf services) and other secondary sources of words you should be using
  • check for legislation by reviewing the footnotes of those secondary sources
  • look for key cases referenced in those same footnotes

Preparedness Step 2 – Use the right search language

  • Place the output of step 1 in your legal research memo so that you have everything ready for writing
  • You will have to find the current law on the topic, so, write out your search in advance (keep it in the memo so you can copy and paste into the search boxes you are using on various sites


I was reminded that sometimes you can find a decent review of the history of a piece of legisaltion within written decisions.  For instance, a discussion of the Election Act for Alberta was published in Engel v Alberta (Executive Council), 2015 ABQB 226 and includes a bit of legislative history.


Today’s Tip is about interacting with your research world.

We are involved in an increasingly complex universe of data that has increasingly complex functionality.  In order to get the most out of what is in front of you I suggest that you engage with the data.  Mouse over text and images; set your browser status bar to visible so that you can read the URLs that hyperlinks will send you to; watch for functionality hint pop up text; in short – interact.

The print version of this is following the footnotes, index, table of contents, table of cases or statutes, adding sticky flags, making notes, and highlighting. In short, interacting with the research world.

You may find something neat. You may learn something new. You will be engaged.

Related post: Read the Screen


Yesterday at Slaw, I posted about the Alberta Law Reform Institute Final Report 106 Assisted Reproduction After Death: Parentage and Implications.

Today’s Tip is a reminder to look to law commission reports when researching items that touch on public policy.  As wrote in a 2013 Slaw post, these reports have hidden treasures:

There is always a chance that a law commission has looked at a legal issue you may be working on. collaborator Ted Tjaden has a section on how to find law reform commission reports on his legal research writing website.


We live in a world where it is generally acknowledge that even though many web services that we use have terms of service, nobody reads them. Stop that bad habit right now. Especially for fee based legal research services. Do you understand what you have agreed to when you use WestlawNext Canada or LexisNexis Quicklaw?

By highlighting this as Today’s Tip I am NOT suggesting that fee based research services are inherently bad – I believe the opposite – I would not want to perform legal research for clients without a subscription to a fee based research service that delivers excellent value added content to my screen.

Today’s Tip IS intended to remind every searcher (not just the law librarians) to understand the license agreements so that they adhere to the terms. Most often, your firm’s law librarian will hit the highlights during training. The WestlawNext Canada License Agreement and LexisNexis Quicklaw Terms & Conditions  are available from the sign on pages.

CanLII (and every other legitimate web service) offers Terms of Use as well.  Pay attention to this:

Users remain responsible for checking whether the intended use of the documents is authorized.

Knowledge is security – seek it out.