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  • Research & Writing

[Admin note: thanks to Karen Sawatzky of Manitoba’s Great Library for this tip; it was originally published on Great LEXpectations.]

Did you know? Plain language summaries of SCC decisions are available under “Cases in Brief”:

Cases in Brief are short summaries of the Court’s written decisions drafted in reader-friendly language, so that anyone interested can learn about the decisions that affect their lives.

They are prepared by communications staff of the Supreme Court of Canada. They do not form part of the Court’s reasons for judgment and are not for use in legal proceedings.

— Supreme Court of Canada website

These summaries cover decisions from 2018 on. This looks like a handy resource to refer to clients or self represented litigants who need to understand a decision but are struggling to read the legalese. Or lawyers who want to be up on the law and it’s not in their area of practice.


  • Research & Writing

Ministerial Orders refer to orders “created under the authority granted to a minister under a statute or regulation that are made by a Minister” as opposed to Orders in Council which are issued by the Governor General of Canada or the Lieutenant Governor of a province. 

For that reason it’s generally harder to find Ministerial Orders than Orders in Council, although this depends greatly on the province. Some provinces, such as British Columbia, make all their Ministerial Orders available in one place. For other jurisdictions you may have to look specifically at the Ministry’s website to find the order (e.g. Transport Canada provides its orders here: 

One thing to keep in mind is that, depending on the jurisdiction, the same number may be used for multiple Ministerial Orders. Drew Yewchuk gives an example in a blog post: “there is an M.O. 20/2020 from the Minister of Environment and Parks and an M.O. 20/2020 from the Minister of Justice.”

(And just to confuse the matter further, both Ministerial Orders and Orders in Council may also be regulations which involves another numbering system.)

Susannah Tredwell


  • Practice

There’s a knot in your belly. Earlier today you received an email from your client asking you to wire the proceeds of a large real estate transaction to an updated account number. You complied, of course. It’s their money after all.

At least, you thought it was your client. It looked like an email from your client. It read like an email from your client. And they knew all the details of the transaction. But now your client is saying they never sent such an email and never received the funds you transferred.

You’re the victim of wire fraud, you’ve lost trust funds belonging to your client, and your basic malpractice insurance may not cover what could be a massive amount of liability.

In these scenarios, fraudsters can discover the details of a specific matter involving a large sum being held in a trust account. These details may be gleaned from gaining access to a lawyer or staff member’s email account and reviewing all communications related to a legal matter, or the details could be acquired from another party. But somehow, the fraudster learns enough to convincingly disguise themselves as a known party entitled to funds held in the trust by the lawyer. The fraudster then sends the lawyer a phony email giving “instructions” for funds to be transferred to an account controlled by them. And with one click, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars can be lost.

Thankfully, there are things you can do to help avoid experiencing these nightmare scenarios.

1) Call before you click.

If you receive instructions by email from a client, other lawyer, or third party that involves transfer of funds, always pick up the phone and call the individual to verbally confirm those instructions.

2) Train your lawyers and staff

Make sure all the lawyers and support staff in your firm are aware of the likelihood of spear-phishing attacks and phony wire transfer instructions, as well as the need to verbally confirm any changes to wire-transfer instructions received by email.

3) Warn your clients

Alert your clients of the dangers associated with wire fraud and advise them to verbally confirm with your firm any bank account details received by email.

Shawn Erker (@ShawnErker) is Legal Writer & Content Manager at LAWPRO.


  • Practice

For so many busy lawyers it’s almost too easy to go in and do your time day after day, year after year. But at some point you may find yourself wondering if this is really what you still want to be doing.

  • If the answer is yes, great, just keep moving forward.
  • If the answer is no, listen and change your role.

A simple but illuminating exercise to get the ball rolling in the right direction is to write your future biography. Not based on where things are headed today. But based on where your interests lie. A different area of practice, a different emphasis in your role (practice management, rainmaker, leadership) or other significant shift… Try writing it for a year from now. Three years from now. Five years from now.

Then take a step back and find the gaps.

What do you need to do differently today to set the stage for this change in your role? Can you identify opportunities, events, clients, peers, mentors, coaches or other possibilities that can help you with the transition?

Other lawyers have done it. You can too.

Sandra Bekhor is a practice development coach & consultant in Toronto.

For more reading related to business coaching for lawyers, see these past articles on SlawTips:


  • Research & Writing

If you find you use a lot of semi-colons, there’s a good chance your sentences are too long. Break things into smaller units, especially for readers using a small screen.

Semi-colons can be useful in lists where the enumerated items are clauses with internal commas, so you know what goes with what. Parentheses could help, but a thicket of round brackets (or any kind of brackets, really) is hard on the eye (as my friend and colleague Angela Swan points out).

In those situations, it might be easier for your reader to put the items in a bulleted or numbered list. In my view, you can dispense with the semi-colon at the end of each line.

Do not place a semi-colon in the salutation of a letter: Dear Ms Ali; is just weird. A colon or comma would do. Or you can dispense with punctuation altogether; the white space after the salutation provides an adequate break.

Note the use of a semi-colon in the previous sentence, where it effectively joins a thought that explains a previous one. A comma after altogether would be wrong, as you’d end up with a non-grammatical comma splice or run-on sentence.

A dash could also be used in that sentence – and would add a bit more emphasis.

But go easy on dashes. Too many and they lose their punch.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

The Canadian census is carried out every five years (you may remember filling it out earlier this year) and, in addition to basic demographic information, covers such areas as housing and employment.

If you’re trying to find census information on a more granular level than simply for the country as a whole, the first thing that you need to determine is what geographic area you are interested in. Do you want to pull statistics for the country as a whole or on a more granular basis?

Statistics Canada divides the country up in a number of different ways including:

  • Provinces or territories (e.g. Alberta). Each province is assigned a two digit code that can be found here.
  • Census divisions (CD) are “intermediate geographic areas between the province/territory level and the municipality” (e.g. Greater Vancouver).
  • Census metropolitan areas (CMA) are “one or more adjacent municipalities [with] a total population of at least 100,000” (e.g. Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver).
  • Census subdivisions (SCD) are municipalities or areas treated as municipal equivalents (e.g. Vancouver, CY). There are 54 different types.
  • Dissemination areas (DA) are geographic units “with an average population of 400 to 700 persons” and are “the smallest standard geographic area for which all census data are disseminated.” Each dissemination area has a four-digit code which is preceded by the two-digit province/territory code and the two-digit census division code to produce a unique identifier (e.g. 12 09 0103).
  • Economic regions (ER) are groupings of “complete census divisions […] created as a standard geographic unit for analysis of regional economic activity.” (e.g. Lower Mainland–Southwest).
  • Federal electoral districts (FED) are areas represented by a member of the House of Commons (e.g. Vancouver Quadra).
  • Health Regions are “are legislated administrative areas defined by provincial ministries of health” with a four digit numeric code being used as a unique identifier, e.g. 5932 for the Vancouver Health Service Delivery Area.

The Census allows you to search by place name, postal code or geographic code. For example a search for “York” would return these results which in turn link to census information for each location.

You can also use Geosearch to narrow down your geographical area, e.g. to drill down to the map forDissemination Area 59153845, but keep in mind that data is not always available for the smaller geographic divisions.

Susannah Tredwell


  • Research & Writing

What does it mean when you table a motion at a meeting?

It depends on where you live.

For those in the non-US parts of the English-speaking world, to table means to submit something formally for discussion or consideration.

The expression comes from act of laying your submission on the table of a legislative assembly or other decision-making body (like a board of directors). This usage goes back at least as far as the 1650s.

The Glossary of Parliamentary Procedure use table as a noun and verb in these senses:

In the USA, however, tabling has, since the mid 1800s, meant postponing or even shelving a matter indefinitely.

Winston Churchill noted the difference in World War II: British officials wanted to table (i.e. raise) something as a matter of urgency; their American counterparts thought they meant ‘putting it away in a drawer and forgetting about it’ (The Second World War (1950)).

In Canada, we see both; but the non-US usage makes more sense when you think of the actual table of the deliberative body.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

It’s disheartening to see how frequently people mess up with commas.

This kind of thing is all too common: Partner, Alfredo Garcia will be speaking about …

Remove that comma! And don’t be tempted to leave it but add one after Garcia! Both suggest that there is only one partner (which, as you know, is not possible as a matter of law).

Another version of the same error: My colleagues, Suresh and Amy, will … It’s not an error if these are your only colleagues, which is the implication of those offsetting commas. If you have more than just the two colleagues, no commas. 

A worse blunder was made by former prime minster Stephen Harper, who tweeted this on International Women’s Day in 2019: Special mention to @LaureenHarper, my mother and daughter.

Mr Harper, you really ought to have put a comma after mother in order to make it clear that there are three main women in your life, not just one with multiple roles.

Unless, of course, there is some weirdness going on in your family that we didn’t previously know about.

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)


  • Research & Writing

For legal professionals working with a high volume of cases, it can be difficult to stay up to date with legal research for all of them. However, with the alert feature on Lexbox, it’s easy to keep track of changes to legal information on CanLII that is relevant to your field of work or study.

Lexbox offers three types of alerts:

1. Citation alerts — these allow you to track the impact of a case over time.

2. Amendment alerts — these allow you to monitor the changes in a statute over time.

3. Query alerts — these allow you to stay informed of the latest appearances of a term or topic in CanLII documents

There are two ways you can set up citation and amendment alerts on CanLII with Lexbox:

a) the corresponding buttons in the Lexbox bar located on every search page and case/legislation page or;


b) the alarm clock icon that appears on the bottom right corner of each search result.

You can set query alerts by making a customized search and then clicking the ‘Set up alert feed’ button in the Lexbox bar at the top of the search results page. For more information on making customized searches, see our previous posts on using operators and search filters on CanLII.

Upon clicking any of these alert buttons, a pop-up box will appear where you can:

  • Customize the title of your alert
  • Choose the folder on Lexbox where you want to store the alert
  • Add a contextual note attached to the alert
  • For citation alerts only: Choose the level of a case’s discussion intensity required for Lexbox to send an alert to you. The intensity is measured in jalapeño icons.
  • Choose how you will be notified about the alert (within your Lexbox folder, by a daily email, or by a weekly email)

When you are finished customizing your alert, click ‘Ok.’

You can check your alerts, modify them, or cancel them at any time by visiting your Lexbox account.

Good luck and happy researching!

Alex Tsang (@atsang101)

[This tip first appeared on the CanLII blog and is also available in French]


  • Research & Writing

One resource that users may not be aware is available in Westlaw Canada’s LawSource module is Black’s Law Dictionary, possibly because it is the only “international” piece of content included in the module.

Black’s Law Dictionary is the most widely used law dictionary in the United States and (according to Thomson Reuters’ marketing department) “the most widely cited law book in the world”.

To access this resource, log in to Westlaw Canada, go to the International tab and then click on the link to Black’s Law Dictionary.

Susannah Tredwell