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Legal Research + Writing: Research Checklist

Legal Research Checklist:

Before you attempt to answer a legal question, ask yourself a few specific questions in order to identify:

A) The relevant jurisdiction (Is this a Canadian issue or will my research involve international sources as well?)

B) Key sources and search terms (What key words and terms should I be using in my search?)

C) The applicable time period you will be working in (How much time will be needed to answer this legal question?)

Once you've answered the questions outlined in Step 1, you will want to familiarize yourself with your legal topic as best as possible.

Start by consulting a Secondary Source (textbook, journal article, encyclopedia, etc.) before jumping into case law and legislation.

Secondary sources are valuable because they summarize and interpret the law in a format that is easy to understand (unlike case law, which can often be complex and wordy).

Secondary sources also provide us with references to relevant primary sources (case law, legislation, treaties, etc.) that can be used later on in the research process. A good textbook on criminal law, for example, will provide its readers with a listing of important/essential case decisions related to that topic. This will save you the effort of having to track down case law when it comes time to finding primary sources.

A vast amount of legal research tools are now available online. In addition to blogs, government websites, and free-to-use databases, there are pay-to use services, such as WestlawNext Canada and Lexis Advance Quicklaw, that offer untold amounts of content. Navigating these resources can be tricky however, and as such, it is a good idea to stick to the following:

CanLII - Free to use database that provides access to Canadian case law, legislation, and tribunal decisions

Lexis Advance Quicklaw (LAQ) - Legal research database that provides comprehensive access to case law, legislation, secondary sources, and international content. LAQ also offers access to Halsbury's Laws of Canada, one of two major Canadian legal encyclopedias. (Access limited to University of Manitoba staff, faculty and students)

WestlawNext Canada (WL) - Legal research database that provides comprehensive access to case law, legislation, secondary sources, and international content. WL also offers access to the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest and the Canadian Abridgement Digests. (Access limited to Faculty of Law students, faculty and staff)

WorldLII -  Free to use database that provides users access to case law and legislation from over 40 jurisdictions from around the globe. International legal materials (UN Committee reports, NATO documents, etc.) are also available for consultation.

BAILII - The British and Irish Legal Information Institute offers free to use access to British and Irish case law, legislation, European Union case law, Law Commission Reports, and other UK-related legal material.

Justice Laws Canada - Maintained by the Government of Canada, Justice Laws is the online source of the consolidated (up-to-date) Acts and Regulations of Canada.

Print resources make up a large percentage of available legal research resources in Canada. Examples include textbooks, case law and legislation.

Other key resources available in print include Halsbury's Laws of Canada, The Canadian Abridgment and the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation (9th edition).

While reviewing secondary sources, you should also be taking note of any Primary Sources (case law and/or legislation) that relate to your research. Access these primary sources by using online databases and/or print resources (see checklist #s 3 and 4). One good case or statute may be all it takes to make an impact on your research.

Reminder: Be sure to confirm that the primary source that you are consulting is still good law (ex: the case hasn't been reversed by a higher court).

It's always a good idea to keep track of your research process. Be sure to document all the sources you've consulted (including citation information). This will help you later when you get down to writing out your essay/assignment/court form.

Law Librarian

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Donna Sikorsky