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Law, Using a Research Checklist Guide

What is a Research Checklist?

What is a Research Checklist?

While every legal problem is different, a research checklist (or research plan) outlines a logical way of approaching most legal research problems. Using a checklist will ensure that you don’t overlook any of the major research tools when working on a legal question.

Checklists guide the course of your research and serve as a written record of your research history. Even if you have looked at a source under a certain heading and found nothing, make note of it on the checklist.

Checklists start with secondary sources (legal encyclopedias, books, articles, dictionaries) as they serve as a means of accessing and interpreting primary sources of law (statutes and case law).

There are many different research checklists out there—on Westlaw Edge under Research and Writing Tools, in textbooks like The Practical Guide to Canadian Legal Research, in CanLII's Legal Research & Writing Guide, to name a few—and which one you use is up to you. What matters most is that you have a plan to organize your research.

This guide serves as a checklist as well. Each tab lists the types of sources you should consult, in the order you should use them, with links to appropriate library resources.

1: Issues/Keywords

Issues & Keywords

Before you start your research, brainstorm your topic. Identify the issues and write down any keywords, areas of law, or subheadings you can think of.

This is also where you can identify any sources that you might already know about: any known cases, statutes, books, or even authors and experts on the topic.

As you work your way through the checklist, you may find other issues and keywords that apply to your research. Add them to this section to keep track of them.

2: Secondary Sources: Dictionaries and Words & Phrases

Secondary Sources: Dictionaries and Words & Phrases

Secondary sources comment on the law, but are not the law itself. Instead, they help you find the law.

Legal Dictionaries

If you need to know the meaning of a legal word, use a legal dictionary. Legal dictionaries are available online and in print:

Words & Phrases

Words and phrases differ from dictionaries, as they show what the courts have said about a particular term. A words and phrases source will show how courts in different jurisdictions (federal, provincial, international) have defined this term. Online words and phrases include links to these cases so you can see the definition in context.

There are a few words and phrases to choose from:

3: Secondary Sources: Legal Encyclopedias

Secondary Sources: Legal Encyclopedias

Secondary sources comment on the law, but are not the law itself. Instead, they help you find the law.

Legal encyclopedias contain narrative descriptions of various subject areas of the law accompanied by footnotes to authoritative cases and/or legislation. They contain summaries of the law, but no analysis or policy discussion, and provide a black-letter statement of the law in a particular area. They will give you a broad overview of the topic before you consider narrower issues.

Canadian Encyclopedic Digest

  • Focuses on federal law and Ontario and the Western Provinces
  • Available via Westlaw Edge (law students only) and in print in the reference section (available to all students)

Halsbury's Laws of Canada

JurisClasseur Québec

American Jurisprudence (2d) (AmJur)

  • An American legal encyclopedia arranged in more than 400 topics
  • Available in Westlaw (via International tab > Secondary Sources) and in print

Corpus Juris Secundum

  • An American legal encyclopedia that covers state and federal legal topics from A to Z
  • Available in Westlaw (via International tab > Secondary Sources)

Halsbury’s Laws of England

4: Secondary Sources: Books and Articles

Secondary Sources: Books and Articles

Secondary sources comment on the law, but are not the law itself. Instead, they help you find the law.

Books

To find books, search the UNB Libraries catalogue; or, if you're graduated and/or working, check your firm's library, your local public library, or your law society/barrister's library.

Search UNB WorldCat:
Limit to: 

You can also view our list of loose-leaf texts (books in binders that are frequently updated and often used in practice) organized by subject. Many of them are available electronically via Thomson Reuters ProView.

Articles

Journal articles will interpret the law and provide greater detail on specialized topics than books do, and they’ll be more current because there’s a shorter turnaround time for publication.

If you already know the journal title, year, volume number and page number for an article, you may be able to access it electronically by searching for the journal's title in UNB Libraries' Journals & Newspapers search. If we have the journal electronically or in print, it will be listed. You can also look up the journal title in UNB WorldCat.

Sometimes it's best to start with an index rather than a full-text journal search.

Key Legal Databases:

Continuing Legal Education Materials:

  • AccessCLE (CLE documents from the Law Society of Ontario)

5: Primary Sources: Constitutional Research

Primary Sources: Constitutional Research

Primary sources are the law itself; i.e., statutes and case law.

When conducting constitutional research, you can begin with secondary sources such as:

You can also find The Constitution Act, 1982 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms via:

Noting Up

When researching a particular section, don't forget to note it up. Noting up statutes/constitutional documents is when you find case law that has interpreted that section in court; therefore, it can help you find case law to support your argument.

To note up a section in Westlaw, hover over the Citing References tab at the top and select Cases and Decisions.

To note up a section in Quicklaw, click Citing Cases on the right.

To note up a section in CanLII, either click the hyperlinked section number or use the Note Up tab at the top.

You can also use an annotated statute, such as Canadian Charter of Rights Annotated, which will provide and comment on the leading cases.

6: Primary Sources: Legislation

Primary Sources: Legislation

Primary sources are the law itself; i.e., statutes and case law.

Statutes and regulations (subordinate legislation that exists pursuant to a statute) can be found in:

Each province and territory should have legislation available online, so check the government websites in your jurisdiction.

Print statutes and regulations are in the Mackay Room and/or the Rare Books Room on the first floor. If you're doing historical research and/or need to look at older versions of statutes, you will need to use the print volumes. While most of the databases mentioned above have past versions of legislation, most only go back to the early- to mid-2000s.

Noting Up

When researching a particular section, don't forget to note it up. Noting up legislation is when you find case law that has interpreted that section in court; therefore, it can help you find case law to support your argument.

To note up a section in Westlaw, hover over the Citing References tab at the top and select Cases and Decisions.

To note up a section in Quicklaw, click Citing Cases on the right.

To note up a section in CanLII, either click the speech balloon on the right of a section or use the Citations tab at the top.

You can also use an annotated statute, such as The Annotated Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of Canada, which will provide and comment on the leading cases.

7: Primary Sources: Case Law

Primary Sources: Case Law

Primary sources are the law itself; i.e., statutes and case law.

Case law can be found in:

Print case reporters are in the Mackay Room on the first floor and mezzanine level.

Case Digests

Along with searching the databases mentioned above, you should use a case digest to find case law. A case digest service indexes cases by topic, and each topic is broken down into several subtopics. With a case digest, you might find ten, twenty, or hundreds of cases on your research topic, saving you hours of time.

Two important case digests are the Canadian Abridgment Digests and the Canada Digest.

  • Canadian Abridgment Digests
    • Available via Westlaw Edge (law students only) and in print in the reference section (available to all students)
  • Canada Digest
  • West Key Number System
    • An American case law digest
    • Available in Westlaw (via International tab > Westlaw Homepage)
  • The Digest (UK)
    • British case law digest
    • Available in print only (available to all students)

Noting Up

When researching a particular case, don't forget to note it up. Noting up a case is when you find that case's history (courts it went to before and/or after, whether it was overturned or upheld on appeal, etc.) and the cases that have judicially considered it (cited it in court). This is an important part of your case law research and can help you find other cases on your topic.

To note up a case in Westlaw, hover over the Citing References tab at the top and select Cases and Decisions.

To note up a case in Quicklaw, click Citing Cases on the right.

To note up a case in CanLII, use the Treatment tab at the top.

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