Legal Research Tips

  • 27 novembre 2023
  • James McCarthy

Legal research is a skill lawyers use from the first day of law school to the day they retire. Whether you are working on your first term paper or preparing a factum for the Court of Appeal, below are five tips to help get the most out of your legal research

1. Start with the Legislation

Many areas of practice, particularly some of the more niche ones, involve their own statutes. Legislation like the Construction Act, the Municipal Act or the Family Law Act can dictate entire areas of practice and create complex and unique legal regimes. In dealing with such a big piece of legislation, one of my first steps is to go back to the source and review provisions in their context. Are there exceptions outlined? Procedures? What part of the statute am I in, and are there definitions that apply specifically to that part? Are regulations provided for, and do they exist? Getting the full picture surrounding a particular provision can make a big difference in your understanding and ability to provide proper advice or make a proper argument.

2. Check a Secondary Source

Secondary sources can be a first place to look when faced with a broad concept or rule. If I am dealing with a common law rule, I will look to online compendiums, like the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest, or textbooks. If I am dealing with a statutory rule or a Rule of Civil Procedure, I turn to an annotation. Why start here, instead of just looking for the leading jurisprudence? Secondary sources are helpful in getting your bearings, particularly with concepts you are not familiar with. Secondary sources will often trace the origin of a concept, explaining any tests or leading cases, and outline exceptions or related doctrines. They provide a way to get your bearings without needing to reinvent the wheel.