Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Importance of Legal Research

The May 2011 issue of the Law Student e-Monthly, a CCH publication, has a great little article on the Importance of Legal Research by Catherine Best, whom many people may know as the author of the Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research.

The article underlines that good research is actually an ethical duty of counsel. And bad research has consequences:
"A litigator who has not conducted sufficient research thus faces the possibility of being sued by his client, and also of censure by the court through an award of costs. For a solicitor, failure to understand the law or conduct the research necessary to gain an understanding of it, will result in personal liability to the client."
Best cites a few Canadian judgments on that very point.

The article reminds me of a recent experience. Last year, I helped teach a first year legal research class at the University of Ottawa. I remember the first class during the first week. In front of me were new students who were probably bored at the idea of an entire course devoted to "legal research".

I tried a few ideas on them:
  • legal research is the ABC of law - you're not a lawyer if you don't know the alphabet and the grammar - many bored looks
  • I then joked that if they couldn't do the research during their first summer job posting in a law firm, they would be called into the senior partner's office and get yelled at - I swear I saw many students put down their Blackberries at this point
  • I was on a roll and I added that courts expect a high standard of research ability and judges will go after lawyers who are sloppy, denouncing them in open court and and even going so far as to award costs against the lawyer personally - now I had their attention. For the first week's readings, the students had to look at a few real life examples of judgments where lawyers were given a public scolding for bad research
Of course, I would have preferred chatting to the students about the "joys" of the Canadian Abridgment or the "beauty" of a good index in an annotated statute. We did get to all of that in later weeks.

But a little fear seems to have worked in week 1 and I am willing to settle for that.


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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:20 pm


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