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Legal Research Manual

This edition of Legal Research Manual builds on many previous editions. While the manual is designed principally for use with the first year legal research classes, upper year law students will also find it a useful reference.

Stage 4: Intensive Case Research and Analysis

By this point in your research you will have:

  • researched books, loose-leaf services, articles, encyclopedias and electronic sources.
  • discovered and analyzed the leading cases and relevant statutory sections.
  • revised your outline to incorporate the results of your analysis so far.

The next step is to flesh out the case law. Performing a "quick and dirty" search in the case law digests will provide a handful of relevant cases with similar facts or issues. By reading the full text of these, one obtains a good sense of the law on the particular legal issue. There may, however, be no cases directly on point. In that case, you may need to find analogous cases.

The next step is to verify that the cases you are relying on are still good law. As well, you might need to find other cases that flesh out or explain a particular point in your analysis. Searching full text case law databases allows you to zero in on narrow points.

1. Find relevant cases to read using case digests

Searching case digests allows you to start case law research from a wide perspective.

  • It is easier to search through large volumes of case law with digests.
  • Most digests use a comprehensive classification scheme to make it easier to retrieve similar cases.
    • The Canadian Abridgment uses a comprehensive classification scheme
  • Use field or segment restrictions to the keywords and court/jurisdiction fields to zero in on relevant digests.

There are two types of digests:

  • Comprehensive:  Cover all Canadian cases from the beginning
    • Canadian Abridgment in electronic format in WestlawNext Canada or print in the Reference section
    • Canadian Case Summaries (Dominion Report Service) on LexisNexis Quicklaw
    • Canada Digest on LexisNexis Quicklaw
  • Current Awareness
    • All Canada Weekly Summaries (from 1976) or Weekly Criminal Bulletin (from 1977) on LexisNexis Quicklaw or in Print
    • Lawyers Weekly digests on LexisNexis Quicklaw or in Print

Once you determine relevant digests:

  • retrieve the full text of the case and read it; and
  • note-up the case, checking for case history and cases considered.

2.  Case History & Cases Judicially Considered

You will come across citations to leading cases from your initial research. It is crucial to make sure (1) that the case is still good law, (2) that it has not been reversed on appeal, and (3) that it has or has not been considered in other cases.

There are several competing electronic systems for case history and case treatment information. These tend to provide coverage of recent cases. For comprehensive coverage, especially when noting up older cases, also use the print tools. See the chapter on Noting Up a Case for more information.

3.  Searching Full Text Law Reports

At this point, you should have a good idea of the issues. Refine your search by checking the law report and full text databases. The full text databases enable you to focus your research on narrow points that are still unclear. In addition, most full text databases are current and will indicate any recent cases that need to be incorporated into your analysis. There may be topical law report(s) published in the area of your legal research problem. If so, browse the report series indexes to double check for issues and leading cases.

As mentioned earlier, there are several competing electronic research systems from which to choose. Normally you would choose only one system to search. You may or may not need to search the databases that are the equivalent of the printed law reports. However, you should always search a current full text database as a final update for your research.

Searching full text law reports involves a different search technique from searching digests.  Your search should be focused on the narrow issues. By this point in your research, you already know the leading cases and the statutory sections. You would not repeat the general search statement from a digest search. On a full text judgment database you would use specific keywords linked with proximity connectors (e.g. within the same paragraph or within so many words). In addition, you may use field restrictions (e.g. within a certain jurisdiction, within a date range).