Words and Phrases Compared

The recent announcement by Carswell that its multi-volume print work “Words and Phrases Judicially Defined in Canadian Courts and Tribunals” is available online means that both Westlawecarswell and LexisNexis Quicklaw now offer access to edited extracts of of the meaning of words and phrases as discussed in judicial decisions.

“Plugged in” legal researchers should note however that this does not mean that the same information is now available on both services. Each database is a unique compilation of words and phrases, with different operating guidelines and scope, and different sources of content. Depending upon your need, both services may have to be searched.

Needless to say, some of the data is the same. However, there are more differences than similarities in the two databases. The key points to note about the creation of the databases are as follows: (1) no effort was made by either company to ensure that its database included all of the words and phrases contained in the other’s database, and (2) neither database was compiled from the same sources.

Words and Phrases in the Canadian Abridgment.

The creation of Words and Phrases in the Candian Abridgment was a major undertaking that employed dozens of young lawyers who physically examined the leading Canadian law reports page by page in hard copy to identify extracts worth including in a collection of words and phrases for legal practitioners. The data gathered was then edited, alphabetized, and published as a series of companion volumes to the Canadian Abridgment.

All current series of Canadian English language law reports were reviewed as part of the process resulting in a base work that exceeded 50,000 entries. Annual updates have produced a database of “70,000 Canadian interpretations of 30,000 terms”.

The new series of volumes replaced an Index to Words and Phrases originally published as a supplement to the Second Edition of the Canadian Abridgment.

Words and Phrases on LexisNexis Quicklaw.

Canadian words and phrases on LexisNexis were identified by means of carefully constructed searches of comparatively recent caselaw contained in the databases available on LexisNexis Quicklaw. The focus was on words and phrases that are in use in current legal practice and included terms in both English and French.

In addition, a number of other sources of words and phrases were identified as being of value to Canadian researchers. Over 10,000 words and phrases from the U.K. and other Commonwealth countries were included in Words and Phrases on LexisNexis Quicklaw. The source of this content was the fourth edition of “Words and Phrase Legal Defined”, a Butterworths U.K. publication.

In response to user requests for the definitions of Latin legal terms still in use in Canadian law, a collection of Legal Maxims with English meanings of the classic phrases was added to the database. Finally, a program was developed for the systematic inclusion of legislative words and phrases from the glossaries of Halsburys Laws of Canada soon after each new volume in the series is published in print.

The “pros and cons” of each.

The net effect of the different methodolgies used by each publisher is that two very different collections of words and phrases have been created.

Words and Phases in the Canadian Abridgment very definitely offers more extracts of Canadian content over a longer period of time than does Words and Phrases on LexisNexis Quicklaw. On the other hand, LexisNexis Quicklaw offers more sources of the meaning of words and phrases.

Both services are unique in what they offer. Until one service seeks to match the other in content, both may be needed. If your interest is Canadian caselaw only, Words and Phrases in the Canadian Abridgment may be enough. If you are looking for more variety and more sources, you need LexisNexis Quicklaw. The ideal database of words and phrases is a combination of the two services, something unlikely to happen anytime soon.


  1. Great post Gary. It is nice to see a comparison of products here on Slaw.

    One other source of Canadian Words and Phrases is the Judicially Defined Words search template on Maritime Law Books National Reporter System. This excellent search template looks for words and phrases definitions that have been extracted into the head note for cases that MLB has chosen to publish.

    Although the scope of MLBs database contains fewer decisions than WeC or LNQL, I think searching this smaller database is worthwhile for both the ease of use of the search template and the fact that critical editorial selection has taken place.

    It is also nice to be able to search for no fee and then decide on seeing a result list whether to look at the text of the decision.