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Legal Aspects of Business

A research guide to support Legal Aspects of Business

Guide Purpose

This guide is intended for researcher with little or no formal legal training but wishes to conduct basic legal research. Most resources linked in this guide are free online resources available with a library subscription.

  • Home Page: legal research process, finding the law, and three legal concepts
  • Commentary: Links to other guides, definitions, and textbooks of legal concepts.
  • Laws: Links to statute and regulation databases and instructions on effectively using them.
  • Cases: Links to case judgment databases and instructions on effectively using them.

1. Legal Research Process

Legal Problem Solving

Legal researchers may approach a legal problem in a number of ways but there are a number of common steps that most will follow when presented with a legal problem:

  1. Facts - Analyze the Facts
    • What are the facts? (parties, events, claims)
    • Which facts are relevant? (be objective, identify missing facts)
  2. Issues - Identify the Issues
    • Area of Law
    • General legal Issues
    • Specific Legal Issues
  3. Law - Find the Relevant Law
    • Statutes and regulations
    • Case judgments
  4. Analysis - Analyze the law and apply it to the facts
  5. Communication - Communicate the Results

For more information see Principles for Legal Research - Learning Module, Brian Dickson Law Library, University of Ottawa

Maureen F. Fitzgerald's Legal Problem Solving: Reasoning, Research and Writing, 4th ed. (Markham: LexisNexis Canada, 2013).

2. Finding the Law - Three Steps

Getting Oriented - Read!

In order to determine the relevant facts and legal issues requires some understanding of the law.  Unless we are very familiar with the research topic we will begin by looking at Commentary (Explanations of the Law). Traditionally legal texts and encyclopedias were used to help lawyers and legal researchers get oriented to the applicable law. Increasingly preliminary research can be done online with care.

  1. What is the relevant area(s) of law? (e.g. Contract Law, Tort Law)
  2. What are the key terms and concepts? (e.g. "breach of contract", "negligence")
  3. What are the key laws (statutes)? (e.g. Nova Scotia's Sale of Goods Act)
  4. What are the key cases (judgments)? (e.g. Fishman v Wilderness Ridge at Stewart Creek Inc.)

Finding the Law (Statutes)

Your preliminary reading should have provided references to key statutes (Acts) that set out the law relating to your research question. There may be more than one applicable statute or regulation, and their may be different statutes in different provinces.

  1. Find the statute relevant to the location where your research problem occurred.
  2. Determine that the statute you locate is the current version and any changes (amendments) are included.
  3. Locate any cases that may help explain and apply the statute.

Finding the Law (Cases)

Case law serves two purposes: 1. it applies the statutes law to specific contexts and 2. it creates law in areas where there is no statute law that governs. In the Canadian system cases can establish a precedent which means that courts generally follow earlier decisions and that the decisions of higher level courts are even binding on lower level courts. It is important to identify "leading cases" that established the legal precedent.

  1. Identity and locate leading cases from my research.
  2. Find the history of that case (note-up).
  3. Find newer cases or cases that are closer to the facts of your research question that also cite the leading cases.

3. Three Legal Concepts

Researching law requires understanding three important criteria: JURISDICTION, CURRENCY, and AUTHORITY.

JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction refers to the territory or region where certain laws apply.  Canada is a jurisdiction and the Federal government passes laws that apply only in Canada.  Provinces are also jurisdictions, and so are cities like Halifax.  Each jurisdiction creates its own applicable laws.  Nova Scotia passes laws that apply only within the province. 

Jurisdiction can also refer to the authority that a decision making body has to make judgments.  The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has jurisdiction to hear cases that originate in Nova Scotia, and their judgments are only binding in Nova Scotia.  The Supreme Court of Canada has jurisdiction to hear cases from all across Canada.  The Nova Scotia Family Court has jurisdiction to hear cases involving child protection, while the Tax Court has jurisdiction over property tax disputes.

In which jurisdiction does this law apply? Which court has jurisdiction to address this complaint?

CURRENCY

Currency is concerned with the state of the law at a particular time. Laws do not remain static; they change and evolve with society. A statute might be repealed if it is no longer relevant or it may be changed (amended).  if the problem you are researching occurred in the past you will need to determine what laws applied at that time.

Currency also applies to cases. A case might be appealed to a higher level court and the original judgment can be overturned. The judgment from the original case is then no longer considered to be "good law." It is important then to know the history of a case. Newer cases might also change the application and interpretation of earlier cases so we must consider how later cases applied them.

Am I applying the most current laws and case judgments to my legal problem?

AUTHORITY

Authority refers to the right and expertise of a particular source source.  This is important for any kind of research but particularly relevant in legal research. Judges have authority to render a decision in a case before them. Higher level court decisions are more authoritative than lower level courts. 

Authority is also important when considering commentary on cases and legislation.  The legal community recognizes certain people as experts in the field.  For example, Peter Hogg is considered a Constitutional law expert, and G.H.L. Fridman is considered a Tort law expert.  When consulting material online be mindful of the source and what qualifies them to be legal experts (e.g. a paper published by a Family Law firm on divorce would likely be an authoritative source.)

Am I using the most important (authoritative) cases and explanations of the law available?

Librarian

David Michels
Contact:
Sir James Dunn Law Library
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