Doing Legal Research in Canada – Canadian Secondary Legal Resources

Guide: Table of Contents / Introduction / Canadian Primary Resources / Canadian Secondary Resources
Canadian Legal Organizations / Canadian Legal Publishers / Research by Topic

This section of Doing Legal Research in Canada discusses a number of important background resources for doing legal research in Canada:

  1. Textbooks/treatises
  2. Legal Journals
  3. Encyclopedias and legal dictionaries
  4. Case digests and case-finding tools
  5. Legal research guides
  6. Legal directories
  7. WWW Meta-sites for legal research
  8. Canadian law libraries/library catalogs
  9. Canadian law schools/law societies
  10. Jobs for law librarians/legal researchers in Canada

1. Textbooks/Treatises

Textbooks are an excellent way to start legal research because of the overview they provide and the references they often give to applicable case law or legislation. This online guide has separate pages describing major Canadian legal publishers and legal research by topic, which describes the leading Canadian textbooks for various legal topics. In addition, this online guide also has a section providing links to various online Canadian law library catalogs, which makes searching for legal textbooks extremely easy.

Many of the Canadian legal textbooks published by Butterworths, Canada Law Book, Carswell and CCH Canadian are aimed at practicing lawyers and are kept current through supplements or looseleaf updates. LexisNexis Canada has recently added the Irwin Law titles to its databases, and WestlaweCarswell provides the full-text of certain of its textbooks on its “partner product” CD-ROMs and on its subscription Internet service (CriminalSource, FamilySource, InsolvencySource, Litigator, Estates & Trusts Source and SecuritiesSource). Another useful type of legal resource are the books that annotate or consolidate legislation by topic (such as the Annotated Ontario Business Corporations Act).

Many of the Canadian academic law libraries can arrange inter-library (ILL) loans (from library-to-library) or provide document delivery to certain patrons (usually for a fee).

2. Legal Journals

Legal journals are another useful resource to begin one’s legal research. Most Canadian legal topics have already been written about by an expert in the area (often a practicing lawyer, a law school professor or a judge). Finding relevant law journal articles in Canada is done primarily through one of two legal journal indexes:

  • the Index to Canadian Legal Literature, available in print as part of Carswell’s Canadian Abridgment and also available on WestlaweCARSWELL and LexisNexis Canada.
  • the Index to Canadian Legal Periodical Literature, available only in print.

Canadian law journals are fairly well-represented on the online databases including LexisNexis Canada, WestlaweCARSWELL and Hein Online.

The Bora Laskin Law Library at the University of Toronto has an Internet version of its list of journals available in electronic format. In addition, Jurist Canada has a list of Canadian law journals online.

3. Encyclopedias and Legal Dictionaries

The leading legal encyclopedia in Canada is Carswell‘s Canadian Encyclopedic Digest (3rd ed.) (the “CEDs”). The CEDs are available in print and on CD-ROM and on WestlaweCARSWELL. In print, there is actually a Western edition (brown) and an Ontario edition (green), although some “titles” from both editions are identical (administrative law, for example). The following comments apply to the CEDs:

  • the print encyclopedia contains Vol. 1 (Absentees to Agency) to Vol. 34 (Weights and Measures to Young Offenders), plus a Research Guide and Key; each topic can be found under a “tab” (called a “title”)
  • each topic or “title” is written by a lawyer who has some expertise in that area; hence, (i) titles are updated on an ad hoc basis, title by title, and (ii) the quality can vary from title to title
  • first-time users should consult the Research Guide and Key to obtain an overview of the publication, which is very simple to use
  • access is most often by subject, via the index; if you have a case name on point, you can check the Table of Cases from the relevant title for that case and then refer to the paragraph cross-references where the known case is mentioned in the text to find other (similar) cases
  • the text is supplemented by yellow update sheets, found at the front of each title; thus, to note up your C.E.D. research, you must check the relevant paragraph number in the yellow supplemental sheets
  • the CD-ROM and Internet version consolidates both the Western and Ontario editions into one source; the CD-ROM also avoids the problems of having to separately consult the yellow supplemental pages since any supplements are consolidated directly into the text on the CD-ROM.

The leading Canadian legal dictionary is the The Dictionary of Canadian Law(4th ed.) (Scarborough, Ont.: Carswell, 2006), edited by Daphne A. Dukelow. Another good source of legal terminology is Carswell’s Words and Phrases, a component of the Canadian Abridgment. The Words and Phrases service is a (blue) multi-volume, alphabetical publication, kept current by paper supplements. Entries for both The Dictionary of Canadian Law and Words and Phrases tend to define words as defined by courts or the legislature; hence, citations of the relevant cases or statutes are given in support of the defined term. In addition to The Dictionary of Canadian Law and Words and Phrases, many indices to topical case reports (such as the Canadian Cases on the Law of Insurance, for example) provide access to cases in the reporter in a section of the index called Words and Phrases Judicially Considered.

4. Case Digests and Case-Finding Tools

One of the leading Canadian digests of law is Carswell’s The Canadian Abridgment (3rd ed.). The Canadian Abridgment is available in print, on CD-ROM and through a subscription on WestlaweCARSWELL.

The following general comments apply to The Canadian Abridgment:

  • The Canadian Abridgment (3rd ed.) is in fact more than just a service providing digests of case law; there are various components: Canadian Case Citations, Canadian Statute Citations and the Index to Canadian Legal Literature, and Words & Phrases; it is possible to but individual components or even individual volumes only on specific legal topics
  • case law coverage dates back to the 1800’s
  • access is primarily by topic using the Key and Research Guide or by keyword using the General Index; once the topic is found using either resource, the user is led to the main volume for that topic and paragraph number range; to update the research, the user then consults the paper supplements, which typically includes a cumulative supplement and individual monthly supplements
  • indexes are found in the back of every volume, including supplements
  • if you have the name of a relevant case, you can look up that case in a table and find the section in which the case is digested ó this can then lead to other relevant cases

5. Legal Research Guides [top] [next] [previous]

Set out below is a list of the top legal research guides for conducting legal research in Canada:

  • Banks, Margaret A. Using a Law Library: Canadian Guide to Legal Research. 6th edition. Toronto: Carswell, 1994.
  • Best, Catherine P. Best Guide to Canadian Legal Research. Available online: Last viewed: March 17, 2008.
  • Bora Laskin Law Library. The Bora Laskin Law Library Guide to Legal Research. Toronto: Bora Laskin Law Library, 1999. Available online:
  • Castel, Jacqueline R. and Omeela K. Latchman. Rev. ed. The Practical Guide to Canadian Legal Research. Scarborough, Ont.: Carswell, 1996.
  • Fitzgerald, Maureen F. (with Melinda Renner) Legal Problem Solving: Reasoning, Research and Writing. 4th ed Toronto: Butterworths, 2007.
  • Gifford, Donald J. et al. How to Understand Statutes and By-Laws. Toronto: Carswell, 1996.
  • Iosipescu, Michael J. and Philip Whitehead. Legal Writing and Research Manual. 6th ed. Toronto, ON: Butterworths, 2004.
  • Kerr, Margaret H. et al. Legal Research: Step by Step. 2nd ed. Toronto: E. Montgomery, 2006.
  • LeMay, Denis. La recherche documentaire en droit. 5th ed. Montréal : Wilson & Lafleur, 2002.
  • MacEllven, D. et al. Legal Research Handbook. With special assistance by Michael J. McGuire. 5th edition. Toronto: Butterworths, 2004
  • Sinclair, Mary Jane T., ed. Updating Statutes and Regulations. 5th ed. Toronto: Carswell, 1995.
  • Tjaden, Ted. Legal Research and Writing. 2nd ed. Toronto: Irwin Law, 2004.
  • Yogis, J.A. and I.M. Christie. Legal Writing and Research Manual. 6th edition. Toronto: Butterworths, 2004.
  • Zivanovic, Aleksandra. Guide to Electronic Research. 2nd ed. Markham, Ont: Butterworths, 2002.

6. Legal Directories

There are a number of good online directories for finding Canadian lawyers or law firms:

7. WWW Meta-Sites for Legal Research

Set out below is a list of various “meta” sites that provides links related to Canadian legal research:

8. Canadian Law Libraries/Library Catalogs

This guide has a separate section on Canadian law libraries and library catalogs that should be consulted for more information.

9. Canadian Law Schools/Law Societies

This guide has a separate section on Canadian law schools and on Canadian law societies and bar associations that should be consulted for more information.

10. Jobs for Law Librarians/Legal Researchers in Canada

There are several good sources to find work as a law librarian in Canada:

  • Faculty of Information Studies Job-Site:
  • Foothills Library Association Foothills Library Association site above provides job postings, primarily for libraries in Alberta, but positions are also given for British Columbia and the prairie provinces. Law library positions are usually posted here whenever openings become available for this territory.
  • CALL and TALL ListservsJob postings are often made on the CALL-L or TALL-L listservs. For information on how to join these listservs, see the information in this guide on listservs.

© 2000-2008 Ted Tjaden. Users may browse, download, print and link to this “Doing Legal Research in Canada Guide” for any non-commercial use or for educational use.

Posted in: Comparative/Foreign Law