Starting Legal Research

Last Reviewed: April 2022 Reviewed by: JES Download

This Guidebook is only a start to learning about legal research. There are many more resources that will help you on your way. The best way to fast-track your legal research is probably to talk to a law librarian. The guides and tutorials listed below will help you gain expertise on conducting legal research.

  • Courthouse Libraries are an excellent place to start. They have resources you can access both in person and online, as well as knowledgeable staff to point you in the right direction.
  • The CANLII Primer is an extremely helpful guide to conducting case law research using CANLII.
  • The University of Ottawa has put together a helpful online tutorial that teaches some basics about legal research.
  • The Canadian Legal Research and Writing Guide is helpful and comprehensive.
  • This is a free publication available on CanLII, prepared by Catherine Best, an experienced legal research lawyer.
  • Harvard Law School has also put together an online legal research training tool.


Identify the Issues

The first step in legal research is to identify all the questions you need answers to. Almost certainly you will have more than one issue. For example, you may have a procedural question (what Court do I need to file this with?), an evidence question (can I rely on my recording of a conversation with the defendant?), and a substantive question (can I get money if the other side lied to get me to sign a contract?). Before you start your research, try to think of all the issues you are unsure of.


Review Textbooks

You may want to consider starting legal research by referring to the leading textbooks on the area of law you are concerned with. These will have broad overviews of the important concepts. Textbooks are available at the law libraries.

Different textbooks go into different levels of detail. You may want to start with less detailed textbooks that provide more of an overview. The Irwin Law, Essentials of Canadian Law series provides useful overviews of many subjects. Many of these books are available at the law libraries.

The Halsbury’s Laws of Canada series also provides concise overviews of many legal subjects and is available at the law libraries. However, it is written in a style that can be difficult to read. By starting with the textbooks, you will get direction as to what statutes and case law you should read.

Learn More

Court to Courthouse Libraries BC for more information

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