Trials of an Event Law-aison

The trials of a second-year law student at the University of Alberta.

WestLaw: PubMed for Lawyers

Jonathan Ip - Monday, October 25, 2010

The craziness of September has finally slowed down somewhat and now I can actually get caught up on my readings! It's nice to finally get settled into a rhythm without a ton of distractions taking my attention away from school...but then again, I'm now writing on my blog instead of reading! I'm volunteering with the criminal law project of Student Legal Services and within a month I already got my first real case.


Some thoughts: I think it's pretty neat that looking up articles in scientific journals is similar to looking up cases in legal journals. In the common law, new cases are decided on how judges have applied the law to the facts in the past; in other words, the old cases set a precedent for how future cases are decided. Of course, there is the possibility of appeal to a higher court or the judgment can be overturned by new legislation, but cases are judged based on precedent if the facts are similar. In scientific research, new experiments are often built on the findings of those who did work in the field beforehand. The new experiments may give results that support or refute previous findings. To do legal research and look up case law, there's services analogous to PubMed to do cross-journal searches such as WestLaw or LexisNexis where you enter in keywords and it gives you cases related to your topic of interest, such as a piece of legislation or a case name.


There is then a system of courts that people can appeal to if they think a judgment is flawed, but not all appeals are heard by the higher courts. This is a bit like submitting a scientific article for review in that some will get published in the more prestigious journals, some in less well-known journals, or not get published at all if their findings are not deemed significant or convincing enough. The provincial courts of appeal have three judges to decide a case and the Supreme Court of Canada has nine, which is like having a panel of reviewers decide if a scientific article is suitable for publication.


It is noteworthy that judges don't have a word limit in their their decisions and expressions of logic, which can lead to some pretty long readings. However, as I have learned from the judges' reasonings, sometimes logic in itself isn't sufficient enough for a decision to be made and other factors have to taken into account. It's a relief that many of the newer judgments I've been reading are divided into sections such as facts, analysis (sometimes with subheadings), and a conclusions/decision, sometimes there may even be an overview of the case to help with the reading.


I hope to have some pictures up eventually, so stay tuned!


Jon

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