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Topical Legal Research

Contains a selection of pages dealing with research into specific areas of law.

Introduction

Below is a list of possible clerkship questions that require legal research knowledge to answer effectively. Below each question are some strategies for helping you prepare for that particular line of questioning.

What is the court's jurisdiction/tell us about the court?

1. To determine this, you need to find the current consolidated version of the Act which governs the court itself.

2. Bring a copy of the Act with you. Highlight and ensure that you are able to articulate the relevant portions of the Act pertaining to:

  • Jurisdiction
  • Appellate jurisdiction
  • Special jurisdiction

3. The court’s website may also have a summary that may provide a simpler description.

How is the court organized?

This question would pertain to the organizational structure of the court including the number of judges, the number of judges required to sit / hear a particular matter; the Chief Justice, role and appointment process, etc. This information may be available from the court website and/or the governing Act.

How are courts organized in this jurisdiction, generally?

The Court website will often have an organizational chart or commentary explaining how the courts are organized.

What are the various statutes that the court has jurisdiction over?

Visit the legislation website for the jurisdiction in question. Use the name of the court as it appears in its enabling Act as your search term (ie “Court of Appeal”). Select a few prominent statutes and review carefully to ensure accuracy.

Tell us about the rules of procedure of the court

You have two primary tools at your disposal to prepare for this question:

  1. Review the enabling Act itself.
  2. Locate a current consolidated version of the Rules of Court (these would normally be passed as a regulation made pursuant to the enabling Act).
  3. You may be able to find a loose-leaf service, textbook or annotated rules collection in the library which specifically sets out the rules of procedure, with commentary for some courts.

Discuss a recent/favorite/significant case

RSS feeds is also available for some courts – this allows you to receive new judgments directly to your inbox.  Visit the relevant court website and look for any available news feeds/newsletter subscriptions.

All three major caselaw databases allow you to narrow any search by court and by date of decision. They also allow you to filter your results to “most cited” to get an idea of what the most significant cases are.

Textbooks on a particular area of law will also list significant decisions.

How would you find recent amendments to an act?

If a significant recent amendment to an Act occurred within the past 3-5 years, there may be some good law journal articles on the subject matter. Law Journal articles can be found on WestlawNext Canada and on Quicklaw.

For very recent amendments, try blog postings, law firm newsletters and legislative summaries provided by the Legislature website.

How would you conduct legal research on a particular matter?

The steps that are normally taken are:

  1. Review the problem.
  2. Isolate the jurisdiction(s).
  3. Determine whether the problem is common law or statute based. You may need to review secondary sources, such as a legal encyclopedia, a textbook or loose-leaf service in order to do this.  Maintain a research plan and log in order to keep yourself organized.

Common Law

  • Locate a relevant loose-leaf or textbook to understand the governing case(s) on point.
  • Note up all relevant cases to isolate the most recent comprehensive cases on point that are still good law.  When doing this, look for any recent cases, especially those from higher levels of court, which have cited the case, to see if they summarize the current state of the law.
  • Also look for any recent cases, especially those from higher levels, which further elaborate on the area of law or the particular point being addressed; or which enhances/advances the particular test being applied.

Statute Based

  • Locate a relevant loose-leaf or textbook to understand the governing Act(s) on point.
  • Review the governing statute section carefully. Cross-reference with other related statutes sections (such as penalties, procedures, etc); and with related regulations.  A statute section may include the word “prescribed” as an indicator that one should review regulations for further instruction.
  • Note up the governing statute section to find out whether there are any relevant cases which interpret the statute section.

When preparing your notes for the interview, be sure to include specific database names, depending on the jurisdiction you are in. 

What do you know about this office/ministry/tribunal and its enforcement mechanisms?

Review the ministry/office/tribunal website to locate a summary. Locate the current consolidated version of the enabling Act and related regulations. Review related questions in this document.

What enforcement mechanisms does the director/office have?

Review the enabling Act and any procedural rules.

What would you do if Lexis+/Westlaw Edge Canada were down?

Use an alternate source like CanLII, or visit the law library of a local university or court house. They provide most relevant textbooks, loose-leaf services, encyclopedias, journals and primary source materials.