One of the biggest challenges articling students face, especially in the first few months, is that nearly every assignment requires looking into an area of law, or drafting a document, that we have never seen before. Without much familiarity of how to seek out the proper resources, most tasks can seem a bit daunting.
To avoid feeling this way, one of the most valuable steps any student can take is to become familiar with the resources available to them and learn how to use them effectively.
If someone from your firm has drafted the document you are preparing, look to those past versions for form and content. When you pick up an assignment, ask the lawyer you are working with whether there are any precedents they would like you to refer to. There also may have been a memorandum written about the area of law you are researching or textbooks on the topic. Taking a look at these before jumping straight into Boolean search strings can save time and avoid unnecessary (and expensive) effort.
Not all firms have internal resources, but there is a surprising amount of information available for free. The Great Library is a place to go for case law and commentary. Firms also regularly produce their own commentary, most of which has been consolidated on the following web sites: lexology.com, legalresearchandwriting.ca, feefiefoefirm.com/ca, and mondaq.com.
If your firm subscribes to Quicklaw or Westlaw, these are fantastic resources for both case law and commentary. Even though we need to be cognizant of research charge-back to the client, both companies have assistance available by telephone with experts who can help you narrow your search. Not only that, but Quicklaw has someone available to chat with online for assistance and Westlaw does not charge back Canadian Encyclopedic Digest searches. Personally, I have found that going to these people first can save a lot of time searching along the wrong path.
Students can also access free case law at the following sites: canlii.org (Canadian case law), bailii.org (U.K. case law), justis.com and justcite.com (U.K. cases and note-ups), worldlii.org (International case law), and scholar.google.ca (US case law).
If you article for a firm that has internal resources, figure out who does what and introduce yourself. I cannot stress how helpful the librarians, intelligence analysts, clerks, assistants, and document processing and knowledge management teams can be.
My first step on almost any research assignment is to e-mail the librarians to see if they know what textbooks are ideal to start with or whether they know of any specific legislation that may be relevant.
Recently, I had to search for specific data published by a corporation that was previously publically available. Since it was not required to be published, it was not in DisclosureNet, but the librarians helped me search for this on a web page archive site that I had no idea existed.
On another file, where I was assisting with incorporating a not-for-profit foundation, I turned to the corporate clerks who knew far better than me what searches needed to be done and knew how to go about conducting a NUANS search.
Also, the assistants and document production team have far more knowledge of how best to utilize Microsoft Word or PowerPoint formatting for memorandums or presentations.
I also recently got help from a graphic designer in the marketing department to prepare a handout for a conference with firm-style formatting and logos.
These people have been working at the firm longer than you, so not only will they think to look in places you never thought of, but they also know a lot more about firm practices than any student.
Finally, if there are other students at your firm, help each other out. I find it extremely comforting knowing I can rely on the other students to bounce ideas off of or see if they have done work in an area that I am not familiar with. This collaboration can also be helpful when you are working with a lawyer for the first time and want to get a sense of how he or she prefers to receive the work you prepare from a student who has previously worked with this lawyer.
While it is certainly important that you ensure your work is accurate, it can be a critical timesaver to use what is available, thereby freeing you up to move on to the next task!
Sasha Toten is currently articling at Bennett Jones LLP in Toronto.