Features – WestlaweCARSWELL: Third Time a Winner?

Catherine Best practices as a research lawyer at Campney & Murphy in Vancouver.1

Table of Contents

Search options
KeyCite case citator
KeyCite statute citator
Abridgment digests
Integration of data
Recent developments


The Thomson Corporation, owner of both Carswell and West, has released a new version of eCarswell based on the Westlaw platform. This is an Internet-based electronic research service for Canadian law. To distinguish it from the previous iteration, it bears the new name WestlaweCARSWELL. Carswell has a long tradition as the leading print publisher of Canadian legal materials, but until now has been unable to marry its impressive print content with a strong Internet-based research platform.

WestlaweCARSWELL is comprised of five different products. This article reviews LawSource, which contains Canadian cases, statutes, citators, case digests, finding tools, and commentary. Thomson has also released four Canadian topical services: InsolvencySource, CriminalSource, FamilySource, and SecuritiesSource. Subscription to each of these WestlaweCARSWELL products is by flat rate pricing. A subscription includes access, on a pay per view basis, to the contents of other electronic legal databases operated by Thomson on the Westlaw platform.


LawSource contains a comprehensive collection of Canadian cases, as well as federal legislation and some provincial legislation, the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest, the Canadian Abridgment case digests, law journals and case annotations, citators for cases and statutes, and other finding tools such as statutory concordances.

This content and its integration set LawSource apart from its competitors:

  • The historical depth and volume of the case law on LawSource is superior to other electronic products.
  • The case law contains editorial enhancements such as full headnotes, KeyCite2 flags, and case annotations of important decisions. Secondary source references are included in KeyCite results.
  • The Canadian Encyclopedic Digest and the Canadian Abridgment are leading research tools for Canadian law, and are not available on competing services3 . The integration of these products with the case law, through KeyCite and Context Tabs4 , is a new development in Canadian electronic research.
  • The Rules of Court for all Canadian jurisdictions are included, as well as a concordance of these Rules with topical headings.
  • No competing service offers a comprehensive statute citator for Canadian legislation.

There are plans to add the Index to Canadian Legal Literature and Carswell’s Words and Phrases to LawSource within the coming year. The addition of these Canadian research tools will further advance the potential of LawSource to become the leading research tool for Canadian law.

This content is indeed impressive. However, there are some important areas in which the content could be improved.

The only provincial jurisdictions whose full statutes are available on LawSource are British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. The limited selection of statutes available from other provincial jurisdictions is based on the specialised legislative contents of the four topical products. Very few regulations are included, even for those jurisdictions whose regulations are available on free Internet sites and on competing services.

These limitations on the legislative content of LawSource are accurately described in the What’s In page, which also mentions Carswell’s commitment to add to its legislative offerings. However, the online contents description for the All Canadian Statutes and Rules database does not accurately disclose these limitations. It states that the database contains “all the public federal and provincial statutes currently in force in Canada together with all the rules of practice currently in force in Canada.”

The same error is reflected in the database descriptions for individual jurisdictions. For example, the Manitoba Statutes database is described as containing “all public Manitoba provincial statutes currently in force.” However, it includes only a small portion of Manitoba legislation.

Given the limitations on what is currently included in the legislative databases, these descriptions should be revised to accurately reflect the contents of these databases.

The statutes which are included do not contain any reference to the statutory history of an individual section prior to enactment of the current statutory revision. Other electronic versions of Canadian statutes include this information, such as the statutes databases on Quicklaw and the Canada Statute Service published by Canada Law Book. Given the desire of Carswell to provide a one-stop research solution with this product, it should ensure that the statute databases contain an historical reference to the previous revision. Without it, users will not have the information necessary to use KeyCite to find judicial consideration of the section prior to the current revision.

Quicklaw provides point in time research capability for its statute databases commencing in 2000. This permits the user to find a section as it was in force as of a particular date. This feature is not available on WestlaweCARSWELL, which shows only the version currently in force.

Most surprisingly, there are no links built from statutory references within documents to the text of the statutory provision. This is a standard feature on Westlaw. If this feature were included, the user could link to the text of the section, and then view the KeyCite results for that section. Instead, the section must be located using the Table of Contents or Find by Citation.

The other weakness is secondary source content. Compared to the large full text journal databases in Westlaw and Lexis, there are few journals in LawSource and therefore few journal entries in KeyCite results. Leading journals such as the Canadian Bar Review are not included. One of the aims of WestlaweCARSWELL is to take advantage of the synergies afforded by the other collections operating on the Westlaw platform. Just as it is possible to link to cases from other jurisdictions on a pay per view basis while reviewing internal references within Canadian cases, it would be significant if the KeyCite results included references and links to the broader collection of secondary sources within Westlaw databases which have referred to the subject case5 . Those outside of LawSource coverage could then be accessed on a pay per view basis.

Many case annotations from Carswell topical reporters have not been included in the Law Journals database. In particular, those which have been published within the case report rather than as a separate case comment are not included in the database. They are published as part of the case, immediately following the headnote. Many case comments from the topical reporters do not appear in KeyCite results for the specific case covered by the annotation, even though the case comment is included in the Law Journals database.6 Carswell should make every effort to maximize access to these case annotations through the Law Journals database and in KeyCite results.

The main secondary source to appear in KeyCite references while using LawSource is the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest, known as the CED. Unlike Halsbury’s, AmJur, or Corpus Juris, the CED is not considered authoritative. The quality of its titles is uneven. Some have not been updated for several years. In order for inclusion of the CED to be really valuable, the overall quality and currency of the publication must be improved.

<Table of Contents>

Search options

There is an array of search options in WestlaweCARSWELL, and users will need to spend time learning which option is best suited to them and to the type of research they are doing.

The Westlaw platform has two basic modes of searching: terms and connectors searching, and natural language searching. Terms and connectors searching is Westlaw terminology for Boolean searching7 . WestlaweCARSWELL has included other searching options accessed through templates and tables of contents; however, the underlying program that processes these searches is based on terms and connectors searching.

Custom templates and terms and connectors searching

WestlaweCARSWELL includes a variety of search templates that can be accessed from the home page of each product. In LawSource, there is a search template for searching cases, legislation, Abridgment digests, the CED, and journal articles. There is also a template for searching all LawSource content.

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

Each template contains a full text search box that can be used by typing in keywords and selecting a connector from a drop-down menu. The options are to search for documents containing:

  • any of the terms
  • all of the terms
  • the terms as a phrase
  • the terms within 5 words of each other
  • the terms within the same sentence
  • the terms within the same paragraph.

If the user includes a connector between two keywords in the full text search box, then that connector will override the selection from the drop-down menu with respect to the relationship between those two words. The balance of the query will still be processed as though the selection from the drop-down menu were inserted as a connector between each word. If you intend to use connectors in a query entered from the template page, it is better to leave the drop-down menu at its default setting of “Any of these terms” and enter your entire query in the full text search box as a terms and connectors query. Otherwise, the effect of combining other connectors with your selection from the drop-down menu may give unexpected results.

In addition to the full text search box, the search templates provide various options for field searches. For example, the case template allows you to search in fields for case name, citation8 , court, judge, headnote, and year. Words typed into the field search boxes are processed as though AND were inserted between each word. The truncation command (e.g., negligen!) can be used in these boxes. The case template also allows you to restrict your search by jurisdiction, subject area, and reporter series by using drop-down menus.

Both terms and connectors searches and template searches are processed in the same way, so your search results will be ranked the same using either of these methods. The default ranking method in Westlaw for terms and connectors searches varies from one database to another.

  • In case law databases, results are in reverse chronological order by court level. In other words, Supreme Court of Canada rulings come first in reverse chronological order, followed by Court of Appeal rulings, and then trial courts.
  • Search results in databases with hierarchical tables of contents, such as the Canadian Abridgment, the CED and legislation, will be ranked in table of contents order.

The user can go to Options in the drop-down menu at the top right and change the default ranking to relevancy mode.

Each custom search template contains links near the top labelled Terms and Connectors Search, and Natural Language Search.

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

If you want to conduct a terms and connectors search, you can simply use the template and override the drop-down menu by using connectors in your query. You will still have the benefit of the field search portion of the template.

If you are unfamiliar with Westlaw syntax and want more assistance to compose a terms and connectors search, you may want to select Terms and Connectors Search because the search page contains helpful information about Westlaw search syntax. It also provides a thesaurus to help the user identify synonyms and improve the accuracy of the search, and a drop-down list of recent search queries.

When initiating any search from a template page, keep in mind that your search will be conducted in whatever is the default database for the custom template you originally selected. If you decide to continue by linking to Natural Language or Terms and Connectors searching, the name of the database will appear near the top left of the right frame, with an icon you can click on to obtain additional information about the database.

Natural language searching

Westlaw has developed a highly effective natural language search engine. Users may find that this is a better option for searching full text case law and journal articles than the search templates.9 A natural language search can be initiated by selecting the Natural Language link from a search template.

Natural language searching allows you to enter your search query without Boolean connectors or search commands. This apparent simplicity on the surface is supported by sophisticated programming underneath. The program automatically identifies phrases or legal concepts in the query, removes common words, and applies word stemming technology to identify linguistic variants of the search terms. It then carries out a statistical analysis based on the importance of these concepts in the database, and uses relevancy ranking algorithms to determine which documents in the database provide the best statistical correlation with the concepts.10

The user can modify a natural language query by adding synonyms, forcing terms to be searched as phrases, forcing terms to be included in the retrieved documents, and limiting search results by date, court, judge and attorney. A thesaurus is included to help users identify appropriate synonyms.

There is nothing equivalent on Quicklaw. Users who have never felt comfortable with Boolean commands may find that natural language searching makes full text electronic research more accessible. Others find that it is a good idea to run searches using both natural language searching and Boolean searching, to take advantage of the strengths of each method.11

<Table of Contents>

Searches from the table of contents

Instead of using a search template or other search method, the CED, Abridgment digests, legislation, and rules concordance on LawSource can be accessed through the browsable table of contents in the left frame of the home page. The user can drill down through the table of contents and link to an individual document. Alternatively, once the user identifies and selects relevant sections of the table of contents, the selected material can be searched using terms and connectors searching.

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

Find by name or citation

The find by citation templates for both case law and statutes work well. They do not require punctuation, except in the rare instance where punctuation is required because of the citation format for certain statutes.

The Find by name or citation feature should be used when you want to retrieve a particular document, as the transactional charge assigned is one fifth of the charge for running a search.12

A FIND request for a statutory provision will retrieve that legislation, plus links to all KeyCite entries that match the search criteria. Thus, a FIND request for section 15 of the Law and Equity Act of British Columbia retrieves a reference to both the 1979 version and the 1996 version of s. 15. However, only the 1996 version is actually in the database. The 1979 entry is simply a placeholder for the KeyCite result.

This is not problematic if the researcher is using the default ranking order for terms and connectors searching, and has not run a broad search. However, depending on the search, the user can end up with a large list of statutory references on the Cite List, only a fraction of which are truly responsive to the search conducted. The rest are KeyCite entries for other legislative provisions that were picked up in the search. This also occurs when searching from the Legislation template.

Perhaps this problem could be resolved by placing the KeyCite entries in a separate database, which is searched only when the KeyCite template is used.

Searching by database

In order to get to the type of screen with which most Westlaw users are familiar, users of WestlaweCARSWELL must click on the Database Directory link near the top of the screen. This will bring up a browsable list of databases, as well as drop-down lists containing the most recently accessed databases or databases you have designated as favourites. You can conduct a search in the database selected using your default search mode, either terms and connectors or natural language. You can set your default search mode in Options, accessible from the drop-down menu at the top right.13

Since this link is an important entry point into searching the databases, access could be improved by using a more descriptive term than “Database Directory”. However, because most users will be better off starting their research with one of the templates, and Canadian users are not familiar with the database codes in this product, the design choice to downplay searching by database makes sense.

Comments on searching features

Many lawyers like to use drop-down search menus and template searches, because they are easy to understand and don’t require the user to memorize commands or learn search syntax. However, template searches restricted to one connector are not as effective for full text research as searches which permit a variety of connectors, or natural language searches.

One of the strengths of Westlaw is the sophistication of its search engine. Users will not take full advantage of this if they rely completely on the drop-down menu in the search templates. Furthermore, some features in WestlaweCARSWELL require an understanding of terms and connectors searching, such as using Locate or composing a search within selected portions from the table of contents. Natural Language searching should also be explored, because it can be a very effective tool for finding and ranking the most relevant documents.

Users should also experiment with how their terms and connectors searches are ranked, particularly for full text documents such as journal articles and case law. Quicklaw users generally search using relevancy ranking, and may be surprised when they use WestlaweCARSWELL to find highly relevant documents far down the list because of default ranking by court and date. One solution is to change the default ranking method for terms and connectors searches to relevancy ranking. However, this can have a negative effect on the ranking of short documents, such as digests, CED excerpts, and legislation. Furthermore, there is some benefit to having the appellate decisions appear first on the results list. Before conducting a search, consider what is the best ranking method for that search. You cannot change the ranking method afterwards without conducting a new search.

When using the terms and connectors default ranking order of court level and date, decisions of the Ontario Court of Justice, General Division appear with decisions of appellate courts. This mistake should be corrected.

<Table of Contents>

KeyCite case citator

KeyCite is the name used on the Westlaw platform for case and statute citators. However, the features of KeyCite vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the document. The comments below relate to KeyCiteCanada.

KeyCite results can be obtained by entering the name or citation of the case in the KeyCite template or using the KeyCite feature at the bottom of the home page. KeyCite results can also be obtained while viewing documents by clicking on KeyCite icons or Context Tabs. The Context Tabs appear in the left frame and are divided between KeyCite history (direct history of the case and negative history) and KeyCite references (all indirect history and secondary source references).

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

Cases appear with a KeyCite symbol to the left of the style of cause, indicating that the case has been reversed or not followed within the same jurisdiction (red flag), the case has some negative history or treatment (yellow flag), the case has direct history (a green H), or the case has been the subject of some consideration (green C). This symbol links directly to the KeyCite results for the case. KeyCite symbols also appear beside case names in Cite Lists and in KeyCite results.

Provided the treatment codes are accurate, KeyCite offers the advantage of quickly informing the user whether a case is good law.

When a citing reference in WestlaweCARSWELL is opened from a KeyCite Context Tab, the display does not go directly to the location of the reference in the citing document. The only way to find it is to search for it using the Locate feature. On Westlaw, the program automatically goes to the portion of the document containing the reference. This is a useful feature, and it is unfortunate that it has not been incorporated in WestlaweCARSWELL.

KeyCite results for Canadian cases use the treatment codes Followed, Considered, Referred to, Distinguished, and Not Followed. QuickCite on Quicklaw uses a larger range of treatment codes, including Explained, and Cited in Dissenting Opinion. Canadian cases in WestlaweCARSWELL have not been analysed using the depth of treatment symbols available for American cases on Westlaw. These symbols indicate the amount of text devoted to discussing the cited case, and whether direct quotations from the cited case appear in the citing case.

The results in WestlaweCARSWELL are organised by treatment code rather than by jurisdiction. QuickCite results are organised by jurisdiction but can be limited by treatment code. Both KeyCite and QuickCite results can be limited by jurisdiction and court level. KeyCite offers the additional option to limit by date and document type. For cases with limited judicial consideration these features are not as important. However, they can be very useful when assessing an authority which is cited frequently.

KeyCite is based on data from the Canadian Abridgment Cases Judicially Considered print publication. Its coverage has gradually broadened over time, as explained in the What’s In page. KeyCite has more historical depth than QuickCite, which does not include entries for cases decided prior to 1940 except for Supreme Court of Canada and Privy Council decisions. KeyCite also includes judicial consideration of foreign decisions by Canadian courts, and consideration of the rulings of some administrative tribunals. QuickCite does not contain judicial consideration of these types of decisions.

There are differences in how the results are presented in these two services. QuickCite includes locus page references for where the cited case appears in the citing case. This is a very useful feature which is not available in KeyCite. In KeyCite, the direct history of the case is presented in a more informative and useful manner than in QuickCite. For example, if leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada has been sought, QuickCite will simply contain an entry for the leave to appeal ruling without indicating whether leave was granted. KeyCite indicates whether leave was granted or refused.

As part of my review of LawSource, I compared QuickCite and KeyCite results for Dressew Supply Ltd. v. Laurentian Pacific Insurance Co. (1991), 57 B.C.L.R. (2d) 198 (C.A.) based on searches done November 26, 2002.

KeyCite listed three negative judicial treatments, as did Quicklaw. However, only one was the same case. KeyCite listed a 1995 Saskatchewan case as not following Dressew. This case was not included in QuickCite. There were a total of 8 cases included in the KeyCite results that did not appear in the QuickCite results. Most significant was a discrepancy in how the two citators dealt with a subsequent Court of Appeal ruling that considered whether Dressew should be overruled. QuickCite stated that Dressew was not followed. KeyCite stated that Dressew was followed. A digest of the Court of Appeal ruling, prepared by the Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia, states that two justices of the five member panel expressly affirmed the first principle in Dressew, but that four justices overruled the second principle in Dressew as wrongly decided.

This example highlights the problems with relying on KeyCite flags and other treatment codes to decide whether a case is good law. Given the differences between the types of treatment codes used, the scope of coverage, the cases included, presentation of results, and variations in assignment of treatment codes, researchers may want to use both QuickCite and KeyCite to update important cases.

<Table of Contents>

KeyCite statute citator

Finding judicial consideration of Canadian statutes has been a tedious manual task. WestlaweCARSWELL has successfully taken the information from the Canadian Abridgment Statutes Judicially Considered and created an effective electronic tool.

When compared with other print publications or other electronic sources for statutes judicially considered, KeyCite lists several more cases for each section. Furthermore, it separates out the results by subsection, enabling the user to focus on the relevant cases.

The manual for WestlaweCARSWELL is not entirely accurate in its description of KeyCite features. It states that KeyCite flags appear on the statutory provision to indicate whether it has been found unconstitutional or has been the subject of judicial consideration or commentary. It also refers to KeyCite as showing the credits or legislative history for a statutory provision. KeyCite does not include this type of information for Canadian legislation.

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

The results list is first broken down by subsection, and then grouped by treatment code. These codes indicate whether the section has been found invalid or unconstitutional (Unconstitutional), the section has been analyzed or interpreted (Considered), the proceeding was undertaken pursuant to the section (Pursuant to), or the section was mentioned but not commented on (Referred to). The results list shows KeyCite flags beside the cases listed, permitting the user to see at a glance if one of the citing cases has been overruled or received negative comment.

KeyCite has excellent historical depth, equivalent to the print version of the Canadian Abridgment Statutes Judicially Considered. However, it seems to take a long time for cases to be included in the KeyCite statute citator. Based on limited testing, some trial level decisions decided four months ago have not yet been included. Appellate level decisions appear to be processed faster.

<Table of Contents>

Abridgment digests

The functionality of the Abridgment digests in LawSource is vastly improved over their presentation in the previous version of eCarswell.

It is possible to conduct a search in the ABRIDGMENT database using the Abridgment template, and then print or download a list containing all of the digests retrieved from within a particular classification, rather than having to open and print each digest individually. Digests classified under different headings will appear as a different document in the search results. You can select All Documents from the print menu in the left frame if you want to print all of them, or print selected documents by clicking on the checkbox beside the classifications of interest to you.

The Cite List which appears after a search of the ABRIDGMENT database is organised by classification, and indicates the number of digests retrieved within each classification. A full list of all digests appearing under a particular classification can be retrieved by drilling down through the Abridgment Table of Contents on the left frame of the LawSource home page, and printed out as a single document.

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

All Abridgment digests for a particular case can be accessed using the Abridgment Context Tab in the left frame for the document opened in the right frame. The functionality of this feature is compromised by the lack of a link from the classification shown in the digest back into the Abridgment database.14 If such a link were included, the researcher could then open a list of all other digests under the same classification. Instead, the researcher must make a note of the classification reference and go back to run a search in the Abridgment database.

In recent years, Carswell has published case digests before citations to print reporters are available for the case. Because of this desire for currency, the digest may contain only a Carswell electronic citation and possibly a vendor neutral citation, but no other parallel citations. A number of the Abridgment digests in WestlaweCARSWELL do not contain updated citation information for the cases digested, despite the case having been subsequently reported in a number of print series as shown in the KeyCite history. In order to obtain this information, a KeyCite result must be obtained for the case.

This reduces the usefulness of the list of digests. A researcher who wants to judiciously use both print and electronic resources may want to print out the results of an Abridgment search, review in print those cases which have been reported, and use an electronic service to review those cases not available in print. However, the paltry citation information in the Abridgment digests for many cases decided within the last two years precludes this approach.

This problem could be resolved if the Abridgment citation for a case was automatically updated at the same time as the KeyCite citations list.

<Table of Contents>

Integration of data

The most striking feature of WestlaweCARSWELL products is their integration of primary and secondary source data. This integration helps to address concerns about electronic legal research being carried out in a narrow, fact-specific way without any analytic framework or consideration of secondary sources.15 It also improves the efficiency of research. As mentioned above, there are various ways in which this integration could be improved further:

  • Links between statutory references and full text of the statutory provision should be included.
  • References to classifications in the Abridgment Digest context tabs should be linked to the digests published under that classification.
  • When a citing reference is opened from a KeyCite tab, it should go directly to the location of the reference in the citing document.
  • When citations for recent cases are updated in KeyCite to include parallel citations for print reporters, this citation information should be automatically incorporated in the Abridgment digest for the case.
  • The secondary source references in KeyCite should be expanded to include citing references from the broader collection of journals on Westlaw, and to include more case comments and annotations from the Carswell topical reports.

Recent developments

The Recent Developments feature on LawSource, described as containing the “Latest Supreme Court of Canada Cases,” needs to be streamlined so that users can easily locate cases. As it currently functions, the list includes all leave to appeal rulings in addition to reasons for judgment in cases. It includes a French and English version of everything. The nature of each document is not always apparent from the cite list. Users who simply want to view the most recent decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada in their own language will spend a frustrating amount of time travelling down this list opening each document. Much of this confusion could be eliminated by separating the leave to appeal applications from the reasons for judgment.

In the limited time since WestlaweCARSWELL has been released, I have found that new decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada were not available as quickly in Recent Developments on LawSource as they were in other sources. For example, on the morning of December 5, 2002 the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Harvard College v. Canada, 2002 SCC 76. I checked a number of sources at 12:30 p.m. EST. Recent Developments on LawSource did not yet list the case. It was already available in Quicklaw’s Supreme Court of Canada Service at that time, and could also be obtained from the Supreme Court of Canada website. It was available later that same day in Recent Developments on LawSource.

<Table of Contents>


Home page features and navigation

The user can customize the home page by selecting up to 6 tabs representing WestlaweCARSWELL products, or other Westlaw products. By clicking on a tab, that product becomes the home page and provides a variety of entry points for research.

Each home page is divided into a left frame and a right frame, with a toolbar at the top and bottom of the screen, each of which includes drop-down menus.

[click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]

The left frame on the LawSource home page contains a menu of sources that can be accessed by browsing a hierarchical table of contents. The right frame first invites the user to view recent developments, which on LawSource consists of recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions. This is followed by a menu of customized search templates, and lastly a template for finding documents by name or citation and getting KeyCite results.

The drop-down menu at the top right of the screen enables access to various general features at any time during research. The drop-down menu at the bottom right contains tools for browsing and working with documents, and changes depending on the nature of the document being viewed.

Once a document has been opened in the right frame, the bottom right corner contains navigation features for viewing the document. The user can use the DOC button to easily move from one document on the Cite List to the next, or use the TERM button to view the document by going directly to each occurrence of the search terms.

If the search has been conducted using Natural Language searching, the user can use BEST mode to go to those portions of the document which contain the highest concentration of the search terms and are therefore likely to be the most relevant. The passage is shown in red.

When viewing documents from databases which are organized by table of contents, such as the CED and legislation, the user can select Docs in Sequence from the drop-down menu at the bottom right, and view contiguous documents even though they are not on the Cite List.

The Research Trail feature, accessible from the top of the screen, permits the user to go back to previous search results.


The documents are displayed on the screen in an attractive format. Users initially may not understand the meaning of the KeyCite symbols, or the usefulness of the icon that allows them to toggle from full screen view to split screen view and back. However, the display is well designed and attractive, and users will soon learn the value of these features.

Helpful information is included at the top of each case, such as how many pages the document will be when printed. This is often difficult to ascertain in an HTML environment.

The pop-up link viewer is intended only for previewing a document, and the Maximize button must be clicked in order to obtain full functionality for the document.16 Until this is done, the Context Tabs for the document will not appear, and some browsing features available for maximized documents will not apply. It is possible to turn off the link viewer using Options if the user does not like it. This will result in all documents being opened into the right frame.

While using the split screen view there is very little area left for the document in the right frame, making one feel a little claustrophobic trying to read it. However, this can be corrected in three ways. One is to use the small icon appearing at the top right of each frame, to maximize that frame. Another is to drag the boundary between the right and left frames, to enlarge the frame you wish to view. A further suggestion, for Internet Explorer users, is to press F11. This will eliminate extraneous space taken up by the browser and allow more room for the program. When you want to return to usual browser display, simply press F11 again.

Printing and downloading

Default printing and download options can be set, and then modified if needed at the time of printing a document. For example, you can choose whether KeyCite flags will be printed on your documents. Users will likely want the flags to appear on a Cite List or on KeyCite results, but may not want them to appear on individual cases.

You can print a document while viewing it, or select documents to be printed using the checkboxes on the Cite List, and then print or download them all at once. Documents can also be stored in the offline print directory and then downloaded at a later time. Documents print in an attractive format in Times Roman font.

The Copy with Reference feature located in the drop-down menu on the bottom right needs to be adjusted to work properly. It enables the user to select a passage from a document, and paste it into a Word document together with a reference to where the passage came from. Unfortunately, insufficient information is included about the document for this feature to be useful. When used with a case, it includes only the name of the case but does not provide the citation. By contrast, this feature on Westlaw includes the full citation for the case, together with a star pagination reference to the location of the passage.

Bilingual databases

The case law databases contain both English and French versions of decisions from bilingual jurisdictions, including decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada and the Federal Court. WestlaweCARSWELL has assigned separate citations to each version and they are listed separately in the Cite List following a search. Thus, when a Find by citation is requested for a case such as 2001 SCC 50, the Cite List will show two results. One will be the English version, and the other the French version.

If you are viewing a document which is available in both languages, a link will appear near the top of the document which takes you to the same document in the other language.

A few Supreme Court of Canada rulings on WestlaweCARSWELL are problematic in terms of how language is dealt with. Some of the English versions contain both English and French, particularly in the headnote. Often the French version of the same case contains no headnote at all. 2001 SCC 50 and 2001 SCC 78 typify this problem.

Technical performance

The technical requirements for running WestlaweCARSWELL are Windows 95 or later (or Mac OS), 32 MB RAM, cookies enabled in the browser, and screen resolution of 640 x 480 or higher. I was using Windows XP with v. 6.0 of Internet Explorer, on a computer with 256 MB of RAM.

I tested WestlaweCARSWELL both on a high speed Internet connection, and through a dial-up connection. It performed robustly in both situations, loading documents quickly.

Features such as WestClip functioned properly, sending e-mails to the designated address in the format selected.

<Table of Contents>


LawSource is a complex product: users will require training and ongoing support to use it properly. Carswell has a policy of ensuring that training is provided before passwords are issued.

Access to customer service representatives, a variety of context sensitive help options, an online tutorial, and a detailed manual for subscribers, are available and will assist both new and experienced users. However, these resources should be reviewed for consistency and accuracy.

The manual was adapted from the American Westlaw platform, and some parts of it do not apply to WestlaweCARSWELL. For example, Canadian headnotes are in a summary (SU) field rather than in the synopsis and digest fields of West’s reporter system as described in the manual.

There is a conflict between the eLearning course and the manual regarding whether Boolean commands can be used in a template query, with the tutorial stating that they cannot be used together and the manual simply stating that a Boolean command used in a template query will override the template selection.

<Table of Contents>


Subscribers to LawSource enter into a flat rate account, based on the number of lawyers in the firm and the nature of their practice. No additional charges are levied so long as the user only accesses material within the subscription. Access to material outside of the subscription is billed to the subscriber based on transactional charges. The user is alerted when a transactional charge will be incurred, and must elect to accept the charge before viewing the document.

To facilitate billing research to clients, WestlaweCARSWELL keeps track of each research transaction and assigns a dollar amount to it based on transactional charges. Law firms can decide what percentage of these charges will be billed to clients. Alternatively, they can have their monthly flat rate averaged out over the searches performed that month, and use that as the basis for client billing.

Even though subscribers are not billed transactional charges for searches performed within the product they have subscribed to, a record is kept of all research transactions and the notional transactional charges assigned to them. This information is used to determine the extent of usage by the firm, because historical usage is one factor considered when the renewal rate for a subscription is determined.

Transactional charges are therefore relevant for three purposes:

  • accessing material outside of the user’s subscription

  • billing clients

  • negotiating future flat rate contracts.

Given the importance of these charges, the user should understand them and consider their impact when conducting research on WestlaweCARSWELL.

The activities in the chart below are assigned the transactional charge listed. All amounts are in Canadian dollars.




Finding a document by citation or name.

This charge is assigned if you use the Find template, or use Find by name or citation on the home page. It is also assigned when you link to a document from within another document. This includes linking from the French version to the English version of a case.


Requesting a KeyCite result for a case or statute

This charge is assigned when KeyCite is requested for a document. It applies no matter how the KeyCite results are requested. If you link to documents listed in a KeyCite result, an additional FIND fee of $5 per document will be assigned.


Running a search using the Cases, Legislation, Canadian Abridgment Digests or CED templates.

This charge allows you to view and print the Cite List of search results, and to view and print any document retrieved by the search. However, if you link to a document from within one of those documents, a FIND charge of $5 is assigned per document.


Running a search using the Law Reports, Articles and Journals template.

This allows you to view and print the Cite List of search results, and any document retrieved by the search. However, if you link to a document from within one of those documents, a FIND charge of $5 is assigned.


Running a search using the All LawSource Content template.

This allows you to view and print the Cite List of search results, and any document retrieved by the search. However, if you link to a document from within one of those documents, a FIND charge of $5 is assigned.


Edit search

This starts a new
search and another search fee will be assigned based on the database you are using.

$25 – $80


You can narrow your search results using the Locate function without a new search fee being assigned.


Browsing the Table of Contents for Legislation, the Rules Concordance, and the CED and linking to a document

If you drill down to an individual document using the Table of Contents then no charge is assigned until you click on a blue link, at which point a FIND fee is assigned.


Docs in Sequence

If you activate Docs in Sequence after opening a statutory provision or a CED paragraph, you can view the preceding and subsequent documents. For example, you can move from s. 3 of a statute to s. 2 or 4, even though neither section was retrieved by a search or a FIND request.


Browsing the Table of Contents for Abridgment Digests and linking to a classification

If you drill down to a classification using the Table of Contents for the Abridgment then no charge is assigned until you click on a blue link, at which point a SEARCH fee is assigned.


Searching selected headings from the Table of Contents

If you select certain headings from the Table of Contents and then search within those headings a SEARCH fee is assigned.


Clicking on KeyCite context tabs

A KeyCite request triggers assignment of a KeyCite fee. Additional fees will not be assigned for the same KeyCite request in one research session.


Clicking on Abridgment Digest context tab

A SEARCH charge is assigned if you click on the Abridgment Digest context tab.


Clicking on Authorities context tab

No charge is assigned for this.


Viewing documents listed under Recent Developments

A SEARCH charge is assigned when you click on Recent Developments. No additional charge is assigned for viewing the documents on the list generated by the search.


Printing or downloading documents located in the WestlaweCARSWELL databases

No charge is assigned for this.


Printing or downloading documents from other Westlaw databases

There is a print/download charge of $8 per document in addition to the FIND charge of $5 for viewing the document. The print charge can be avoided by using the print features of your browser to print the document instead of invoking the print command from within WestlaweCARSWELL.


Using links in the Research Trail

No charge is assigned if you click on a link in the Research Trail before the end of the day in which you performed the search. After that period, a charge will be assigned on the same basis as if a new SEARCH, FIND or KeyCite request were made.

$0 on same day, new charge after that.

Charges for databases outside of WestlaweCARSWELL are published in the Reporting System database.17 The cost of these databases varies widely. The United Kingdom Law Reports database costs $64 CDN per search. The United Kingdom Reports All database costs double that much, as does the All Federal Cases (US) database. A search of the TP-ALL database, which contains all law reviews, texts and bar journals on Westlaw, costs $167. Searches in smaller more specialised databases are less expensive. In addition to the SEARCH fees, there are FIND fees, CITATOR fees, and PRINT fees. It typically costs $5 to find or link to a document outside your subscription. It costs $7 to obtain a KeyCite result for it. So long as you use your browser’s print function, you can print the document without additional charges. However, if you use the WestlaweCARSWELL printing features for documents outside of the WestlaweCARSWELL databases, it will cost you an additional $8 to print the document. These transactional charges will be incurred by the firm in addition to the flat rate fee, if the firm does not have a subscription to the Westlaw service in which the database or document is located.

Flat rate subscriptions with firms are negotiated individually and are considered confidential, making it difficult to determine what rates are being offered and how reasonable they are. Provided that users search effectively, keyword searches across the case law database in LawSource may be more cost effective on WestlaweCARSWELL than on Quicklaw, particularly if combined with the LOCATE feature. Also, users are not subject to the pressures of time-based charges. However, following links in the retrieved cases on WestlaweCARSWELL and opening up KeyCite results for several documents will increase the cost dramatically.

Given the large difference between the WestlaweCARSWELL transactional charges and the current cost of performing some functions on Quicklaw, such as finding a case or requesting a citator report, over time WestlaweCARSWELL will likely be a more expensive service. In order to justify this price difference, WestlaweCARSWELL has to be a superior product in terms of currency, content, functionality, and value-added features.

Users will have to decide whether to conduct their research with these costs in mind and not make full use of the capabilities of the product, or take full advantage of its features and simply write off a portion of the transactional charges rather than billing them to clients. The wisdom of either course of action is largely dependent on how renewal rates will be negotiated. Before deciding to subscribe, and before adopting internal policies on usage, firms should discuss with their account representative how renewal rates will be determined and what role usage history based on transactional charges will play.

Some rules to follow in order to reduce transactional charges:

  • If all you need to do is obtain a copy of a case, then get it from another source, such as the free collection of recent Canadian cases on CANLII or the free collection of recent American case law on LexisOne. By using Find by Citation on Quicklaw, you can usually download and print a case for less than $1. For free and timely access to new Supreme Court of Canada rulings, use the Supreme Court of Canada website.
  • Be sure the version of the case you are opening is in the correct language before you open it.
  • Make your initial search broad and then narrow your results using Locate.
  • Think carefully about which search method and ranking method would give the best results before running a search.
  • Don’t use the Abridgment Context Tab.
  • Be cautious about how many links you follow.
  • Use the Cite List for obtaining parallel citations rather than KeyCite, unless you want to obtain KeyCite results for other reasons.
  • Don’t conduct searches using the All LawSource Content template unless you are sure it is warranted.
  • If printing a document which is not from a WestlaweCARSWELL database, use the browser’s print function.

<Table of Contents>


LawSource is a robust, full-featured product with excellent coverage of Canadian case law, strong editorial enhancements, and good integration of secondary and primary sources. KeyCite is a significant addition to Canadian legal research tools.

A major weakness of this product is the lack of statutory coverage for several Canadian jurisdictions. This is compounded by the failure to include full regulations for any Canadian jurisdiction. In this latter respect, LawSource does not have information which is published in competitive products, and even on free Internet sites. Serious attention needs to be given to improving the legislative offerings in this product.

Narrative secondary source offerings could be improved by enhancing the content and currency of the CED, and broadening the material included in the Law Journals database. Integration between the various features could be strengthened by incorporating additional enhancements from the Westlaw platform.

Given the emphasis on KeyCite icons for determining whether a case is good law, care must be taken to ensure that treatment codes are properly assigned. Decisions which are partially overruled should receive negative treatment flags even if part of the decision was upheld.

The choice to present template searching as the default interface simplifies things, but means that most users will not take advantage of the sophisticated Boolean and natural language search capabilities of Westlaw. This design choice is understandable given the dominance of the template interface in other products and the preference of most lawyers. However, users should explore the variety of search methods in the Westlaw platform.

Pricing remains a large issue. Transactional pricing can easily distort the research process, with the result that it becomes driven by cost concerns rather than good research methodology. One of the purposes of a flat rate subscription is to lessen these concerns. However, usage without any concern for the transactional charges could lead to a large increase in the subscriber’s flat rate fee in subsequent years, and cause problems regarding the amounts billed to client files. These issues are not unique to WestlaweCARSWELL. Similar problems arise when using time-based services such as Quicklaw. However, it is more difficult to ascertain and monitor these costs in a complex transactional pricing model. Firms should consider which functions are cost-effective and which are not, and methods to reduce transactional charges should be employed where possible. Pressure should be placed on Carswell to eliminate certain transactional costs, such as the SEARCH charge for viewing Recent Developments or for clicking on the Abridgment context tab.

With the release of this product, Carswell becomes a serious contender with Quicklaw for dominance of the Canadian electronic legal research market. Fierce competition between Westlaw and Lexis has long characterised and shaped the American market. Quicklaw is now owned by Lexis, meaning that the same two players will be battling for the Canadian market. Quicklaw will have to decide whether it can maintain its market share by offering its product at a lower cost than WestlaweCARSWELL, or whether it must charge more to fund the enhancements required to remain competitive. It will be interesting to see how this new era unfolds.

<Table of Contents>


1Catherine Best practises as a research lawyer at Campney & Murphy in Vancouver, British Columbia and is the author of the Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research.
2KeyCite is a case and statute citator in Westlaw products.
3For readers unfamiliar with these publications, they serve a function similar to AmJur and West’s Decennial Digest.
4Context Tabs are the tabs which appear in the left frame while viewing a document in the right frame. They permit quick access to a Cite List of documents retrieved in the search, and Abridgment digests and KeyCite results for the document in the right frame.
5Canadian cases which have been reported in American reporter series, such as American Maritime Cases, do include some citing references to articles outside of the scope of LawSource coverage. For an example, see the KeyCite result for Canadian National Railway v. Norsk, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 1021. However, this is the exception rather than the rule.
6A random check of five case comments from Carswell topical reporters indicated that over half were not included in KeyCite for the case commented on. This is the situation with the comment for Bhullar v. Atwal (1995), 43 C.P.C. (3d) 326 (B.C.S.C.). The comment is published at 43 C.P.C. (3d) 330, but is not included in the KeyCite list of secondary sources for this case. Similarly, the comment on GATX Corp v. Hawker Siddeley (1996), 27 B.L.R. (2d) 251, published at 27 B.L.R. (2d) 301, was not listed in KeyCite for the case. The comment on Slate Ventures Inc. v. Hurley (1996), 27 B.L.R. (2d) 41, published at 27 B.L.R. (2d) 69, was also not listed in KeyCite for the case.
7See Search Syntax for Legal Databases for a comparative chart of Boolean search syntax for WestlaweCARSWELL, Quicklaw and Lexis.
8Retrieval of a particular case using its name or citation should be initiated using the FIND Template rather than the Case Template because of the difference in transactional pricing. For the relevance of transactional pricing to flat rate accounts, see the section on Pricing.
9McKenzie, Elizabeth, “Natural Language Searching: How WIN Works in Westlaw” (2001) 18 Legal Reference Services Quarterly 39.
10Desert, Sheilla, “Westlaw is natural v. Boolean searching: a performance study” (1993) 85 Law Libr. J. 713 at 715-716.
11Ibid. at 738-741.
12For an explanation of transactional charges and their relevance to flat rate accounts, see the section on Pricing.
13Even if you select natural language as your default search option, when you use a template you will be in terms and connectors mode until you click on the Natural Language link at the top of the frame. Similarly, if you launch a search from a browsable table of contents you will be restricted to terms and connectors mode.
14A transactional charge of $25 is assigned for clicking on this Tab. Given its lack of functionality, this charge is not warranted. For information about the relevance of transactional charges to flat rate subscribers, see the section on Pricing.
15Bast & Pyle, “Legal Research in the Computer Age: A Paradigm Shift?” (2001) 93 Law Library Journal 285.
16A document need not be maximized in order for a FIND charge to be assigned. The FIND charge is assigned as soon as the document is opened in the link viewer.
17The Reporting System is an online database to which the subscriber firm has access. It contains a detailed list of all of the databases on the Westlaw platform, and the various charges associated with searching in each database.

Posted in: Features, International Legal Research, Westlaw