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 (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 WestlawNext Canada under Research and Writing Tools, in textbooks, or via CanLII's Legal Research & Writing Guide—and which one you use is up to you. What matters most is that you have a plan to organize your research.

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.

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.

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 (CED)

The CED focuses on federal law and Ontario and the Western Provinces. You can find CED in WestlawNext Canada and in print (Ontario and federal only).

Halsbury's Laws of Canada

Halsbury's focuses on federal law and all provincial jurisdictions. You can find Halsbury's in Lexis Advance Quicklaw and in print.

JurisClasseur Québec

JurisClasseur covers Quebec law and is in French. You can find JurisClasseur in Lexis Advance Quicklaw

American Jurisprudence (2d) (AmJur)

AmJur is an American legal encyclopedia arranged in more than 400 topics. You can find AmJur in Westlaw (via International tab > Secondary Sources) and in print

Corpus Juris Secundum

Corpus Juris is an American legal encyclopedia that covers state and federal legal topics from A to Z. You can find Corpus Juris in Westlaw (via International tab > Secondary Sources).

Halsbury’s Laws of England

Halsbury's Laws of England is a British legal encyclopedia. You can find it in Lexis Advance Quicklaw and in print.

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:     

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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.

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 the UNB e-journals database. 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. A few key indexes in law are listed below, followed by full-text databases.

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 view The Constitution Act, 1982 via:

You can also view The Constitution Act, 1867 via:

And the Charter 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.

You can also find statutes and regulations in print 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. Note that 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 hyperlinked section number or use the Note Up 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:

You can also find cases in print reporters in the Mackay Room on the first floor and mezzanine level.

Case Digests

Case digests are case-finding tools that list cases by topic and will include short summaries of the cases, which allows you to see what the case is about without having to read the entire decision (which you will still need to do, once you've determined a case is useful from the provided summary). With a digest, you can find 5, 10, or 100 cases on the same topic, which can save you hours of research.
 

Canadian Abridgment Digests

The Canadian Abridgment Digests are available in WestlawNext Canada and in print.
 

Canada Digest

The Canada Digest is available in Lexis Advance Quicklaw.
 

West Key Number System

The West Key Number System is a digest of American case law available in Westlaw (via International tab > Westlaw Homepage).
 

The Digest (UK)

The Digest covers British case law and is available in print.
 

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 Note Up tab at the top.

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