LexisNexis Quicklaw & Westlaw Canada
The two main online Canadian legal research services are LexisNexis Quicklaw and Westlaw Canada. They both contain thousands of databases covering case reports, digests, administrative tribunal decisions, statutes and secondary sources (i.e. legal texts, law journals and newsletters).
It is important to realize that these services are only free in an academic environment--once you are working in a legal capacity, you or your workplace will be required to pay for searches. Since clients in private practice are generally billed for LexisNexis Quicklaw and Westlaw Canada searches, law firms will expect you to complete searches in as efficient a manner as possible. Firms will also expect you, where practical, to begin your research with paper or other "free" sources.
It's also worth mentioning that LexisNexis Quicklaw and Westlaw Canada should not be thought of as sufficient in and of themselves for all legal research problems. It is generally necessary to also consult other sources, either online or in print, when doing your research.
This chapter will give a brief overview of how to use both services.
Quicklaw is the original Canadian legal database system and has been operating for about thirty years. Quicklaw originated here at Queen's University law school. It grew to become a private company with no formal ties to the University. In July of 2002, Quicklaw was sold to LexisNexis Butterworths.
In terms of scope, Quicklaw is one of the most comprehensive of the computerized, Canadian legal research systems and is widely used in law firms and other legal departments.
Databases on LexisNexis Quicklaw
Quicklaw's databases are initially divided into the main areas of Court Cases, Tribunal Cases, Legislation, Commentary, Journals, Forms, International, News & Companies, General and All Search Forms. Each area but the last has its own search screen.
The "Find a Document" screen that opens when you first sign in allows you to locate a case, statute, or article if the name or citation is already known. You can also conduct a general search from the homepage.
To find a relevant source (e.g. to find out if Quicklaw owns a certain journal), use the "Find a Source" box on the main page or go to the beige "Source Directory" tab, which allows you to browse sources by publication type, jurisdiction, and topic. Once you have narrowed the type of sources you need, you can find out more about individual and group sources by clicking on the "i" next to each one. A pop-up window will give a brief description of the contents of that database and the time span of coverage (i.e., how far back in time do the materials go? How current are the materials?). The date it was last updated will be provided. In terms of retrospective coverage, many databases do not go back more than a few decades, although there are exceptions.
Basic Structure of LexisNexis Quicklaw
There are specific search pages, accessible from the red bar, such as a Home search page, providing easy access to frequently used sources, Court Cases, Tribunal Cases, Legislation, Commentary, Journals, Forms, International, News & Companies, and General.
For the most part, these search pages covers one aspect of legal research. They are designed with similar interfaces. We'll begin by reviewing how to use the different parts of the pages.
Entering Search Terms
All the databases start with a search box where you can enter boolean search terms. Performing effective boolean searches will be discussed below.
Each page then has a box for which database(s) you want to search. You can search a broad (or "global") database, such as "All Canadian Cases" or a narrow one, such as "New Brunswick Judgments." If the source you're looking for isn't in the drop-down menu beside "Sources," you can click on "Find More Sources..." to see other options. The other text boxes and drop-down menus allow you to put in information to narrow your search - by jurisdiction, court, date range, etc.
Other Known Information
On each page, there are further boxes to fill in if you know certain other information, such the citation (of a case or journal article), author (of a journal article), or name (of a case or a statute), etc. Filling certain boxes can be a shortcut to retrieving a specific document or a way to further narrow your search.
Tips for Commonly Used Databases
- Court Cases
In addition to typical case law databases covering jursidictions, courts, or topics, there are digest databases, which can be a useful way to start your case law research. LexisNexis Quicklaw has a number of digest databases :
- The new Canada Digest, which contains summaries of cases from all Canadian jurisdictions organized under the LexisNexis Classification System with headings and subheadings. They are then organized by court level, jurisdiction, and date.
Canadian Case Summaries (originally Dominion Report Service): a comprehensive digest service covering cases decided since 1968, with some English coverage from 1574 (!). They can be useful to obtain citations for a case, and they also have links to the full text decision if it is available elsewhere on LexisNexis Quicklaw.
- The LAW/NET Legal Update Service, which contains significant new Canadian court decisions. This database is updated daily, but the contents remain in LAW/NET for only two weeks.
- Tribunal Cases
This search page has a similar structure to the "Court Cases" page but searches databases for various Canadian boards and tribunals, such as the Municipal Board and Human Rights Tribunals. You can specify one tribunal or search them all; you can also find additional tribunals by clicking on "Find More Sources...," as LexisNexis Quicklaw has many tribunals databases.
From this search page, you can retrieve statutes, regulations, and rules of court. You have the option of retrieving certain statutes as they looked at a certain point of time, which can help with historical legal research.
From this page, you can search the full-text of a number of Canadian legal journals. While this can be handy, remember that this database does not contain all Canadian legal journals, so additional searches should be conducted in other databases, such as the more comprehensive Index to Canadian Legal Literature (available in LexisNexis Quicklaw or Westlaw Canada), LegalTrac, etc.
You can also display all the possible databases on a particular legal topic, grouped by type of information (e.g., cases, legislation, commentary):
1. Go to the "Source Directory" tab.
2. Filter by Country: Canada
3. Filter by topic: (choose a topic from the drop-down menu)
4. The page will be refreshed to display all databases on that legal topic, grouped by type of information.
Researching Foreign Law
To research foreign law (American, British, etc.), use the "International" tab.
Alternately, you can:
1. Go to the "Source Directory" tab.
2. Filter by Country: (choose from the drop-down menu)
3. Optionally, you can also filter by topic: (choose from the drop-down menu)
4. The page will be refreshed to display all databases containing legal material from a particular country, grouped by type of information.
QUICK ACCESS TO A KNOWN SOURCE OR DOCUMENT
Find a Source
To find out if LexisNexis Quicklaw contains a specific source (such as a journal or reporter), and to get direct access to it, fill in the "Find a Source" text box on the homepage or click on the "Source Directory" tab. In the righthand corner, type in the name of the source in the box labeled, "Find a Source."
Find a Case, Statute, or Article
If you know the name or citation of a case, statute, or article, you can find it from the homepage by filling in the known information in the appropriate box.
While LexisNexis Quicklaw is flexible in accepting variant forms of the citation (e.g., 39 d.l.r.(4th) 595 or 39 dlr(4th)595 or 39dlr4th595), keep in mind that just because you fail to pull up a case by citation, it doesn't mean it's not there--you might still want to search by case name or in some other way, just to ensure that you haven't overlooked it.
Find a Definition
You can see if a judge or arbitrator has defined a particular term in a case by typing in the term after "Find a definition" on the main page. This will take you to decisions where the term was judicially defined.
Westlaw Canada, a Thomson Reuters business, is another comprehensive computerized, Canadian legal research systems and is widely used in law firms and other legal departments. This platform has a straightforward interface and also contains electronic versions of some of Thomson Reuters' most popular print products, such as the Canadian Abridgment and the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest.
In terms of case law and legislation, while much of what you will find on Quicklaw will also be here, each service also contains unique content.
Basic Structure of Westlaw Canada
There are eight basic search templates available depending on the type of document you want. While all material is available through the search templates, five sources are accessible through their tables of contents, which can be useful for browsing and narrowing searches.
Cases, Legislation, Law Reports Articles and Journals, and All LawSource Content Search Templates
Entering Search Terms
As in Quicklaw, all the search templates start with a search box where you can enter boolean search terms. Performing effective boolean searches will be discussed below. The drop-down menu below the search box, labeled "The results must contain," lets you do a simplified boolean search without using any of the operators.
Other Known Information
On each page, there are further boxes to fill in if you know certain other information, such the citation (of a case or journal article), author (of a journal article), or name (of a case or a statute), etc. Filling in these boxes is a shortcut to retrieving a specific document or a way to further narrow your search.
Canadian Abrigment Digests
The Canadian Abridgment Digest, which digests cases under subject titles (for more information, see Law Reports), is accessible by search or by table of contents. You can also combine these features by browsing through the table of contents until you find the general area of interest, checking the adjacent boxes, and then clicking on "Search Selected" at the bottom of the screen.
Canadian Encyclopedic Digest
The Canadian Encyclopedic Digest, which gives concise explanations of areas of law (for more information, see Secondary Sources), is accessible by search or through its table of contents. You can also combine these features by browsing through the table of contents until you find the general area of interest, checking the adjacent boxes, and then clicking on "Search" at the bottom of the screen. This will restrict your search to the areas you have selected, rather than the entire C.E.D.
Index to Canadian Legal Literature
The ICLL is an excellent tool for locating a source when you only know one element (the author, the title, etc.). To use it for keyword searching, enter your terms in the "Any terms" box. You can narrow your search by timeframe and type of material. You can also look at the Table of Subject Headings to decide what search terms to enter or the Table of Periodicals Indexed to know what sources are covered. For more information on the ICLL, see Secondary Sources.
Words and Phrases
Based on Words & Phrases Judicially Defined in Canadian Courts and Tribunals, a popular collection in print since 1993, it provides judicial interpretations of statutory and common law terms from the 1800’s onward. The search screen allows you to narrow your search by timeframe, jurisdiction, etc. You can also find statutory definitions of words from this page.
Cases Considering a Section of a Statute
Instead of searching for the statute name and number in a legislation search template, there is a much easier way to find judicial consideration of a statute section.
1. From the main page, under "Find/Keycite a Document," enter the legislation title, section number, and jurisdiction. Click "go."
2. From the results, choose the relevant statute and section.
3. Your selected section will be displayed in the main frame of the page. Click on "Citing References" in the menu on the left.
4. Cases that cite that section will then be displayed.
Researching Foreign Law
Westlaw Canada also has an extensive American and foreign law collection. To research foreign law (American, British, etc.):
1. Click on "Directory" at the centre of the very top of the page.
2. You can either search the directory for a specific source or browse to find a relevant one.
3. To browse, choose a database under "International Subscriptions" such as U.S. Primary, U.S. Premier, or U.K. Law, etc.
4. From those menus, you can browse through folders and subfolders to find an appropriate database.
5. Clicking on "All Databases" will display more options.
PERFORMING SEARCHES ON LEXISNEXIS QUICKLAW AND WESTLAW CANADA
It is important to analyze your research question and decide on the key issues before you log on to LexisNexis Quicklaw or Westlaw Canada. Ask yourself:
1. What exactly am I looking for? -- Is it a particular case? Is it a specific piece of legislation? If you know the name of the case or statute, finding what you want should be fairly easy.
If, however, you are looking for cases or legislation dealing with a particular area or point of law and you don't have any information, you need to focus on unique or specific words or phrases which best describe the issue you are researching. If you already have one relevant case, look for the key terms in that case which might be repeated in similar cases. Often, it is wise to begin with a general text on the subject--whether in print or online, paying particular attention to key cases and the language used by the author to discuss this particular aspect of the law.
2. Are there other words to describe the same thing? -- Because the software treats any search statement literally, it is important to think of, and include in your search request, alternate words or phrases that express the same concept (e.g., firing, downsizing, dismissal, sacking, terminating, letting go). Consult dictionaries, thesauri, or other legal texts to get ideas. Other considerations include variant endings (called "root expansion" or "truncation") of a word (e.g., to find "downsizing" or "downsized", you would want to truncate the word. Using downsiz! will find both variants).
3. How do I want to limit my search? -- Consider whether you want your information limited to a particular time period (e.g., the last five years), or to cases from a specific court level (e.g., Court of Appeal or Supreme Court). This prevents retrieving irrelevant cases.
4. What database(s) is/are most appropriate for the information I want? -- Choose your database(s) wisely, taking into account jurisdictions covered, type of information included, and time period covered.
Note on Word Pluralisation:
Both LexisNexis Quicklaw and Westlaw Canada perform automatic pluralisation of most words in a search statement (i.e. plural forms will be retrieved when the singular form is entered). You have the option of turning off this feature.
Search statements employ a number of symbols and punctuation elements which have very precise meanings. The chart below lists the essential ones for Boolean searching.
|Leaving a Space between words||child youth juvenile||
Westlaw Canada: you want either child or youth or juvenile
LexisNexis Quicklaw: you want child youth juvenile as a phrase
|and (or &) between words||child and abuse||you want both child and abuse to appear somewhere in the document (but in no specific relationship to each other)|
|/p between words||child /p abuse||you want child and abuse to appear in the same paragraph|
|/# between words||child /1 abuse||you want child and abuse to be no more than one word apart from each other|
|infant youth child /5 abuse||you want either infant or youth or child to be no more than five words away from abuse|
|! after the stem of a word||abus!||you want all forms found for words beginning with abus
i.e.abuse abusive abusively
As appropriate, combine the search commands described above. Avoid unnecessarily long or convoluted search statements.
In LexisNexis Quicklaw, the left side of your screen will list in which sources the various documents were found (e.g. from which court, etc.). On the right side of your screen, you will find the list of documents with links to the full-text.
In Westlaw Canada, the left side of your screen will give a document list. The right side of your screen displays whichever document you click to view.
For both databases, you can go straight to where your search terms were found. In LexisNexis Quicklaw, this is done by clicking on the arrows next to "Hits" found at the bottom right. In Westlaw Canada, this is done by clicking on the arrows beside "Term" at the bottom centre of the page.
To view a particular document, click on the name or citation of the document in question and the first page of the full text will appear in the main frame of the screen on the right.
Last Updated: 17 October 2013