Legal Research Bootcamp – Winnipeg Style

Last September, Melanie Bueckert, Legal Research Counsel at the Manitoba Court of Appeal, (and occasional Slaw contributor), saw a reference to the Head-Start Program offered by the Edmonton Law Libraries Association (ELLA). As a law librarian in a small market, I was both aware and envious of the program and the association that presented it. While I fantasized about the possibility of offering a similar program here in Winnipeg, Melanie took a bolder step and asked if it were possible to put on a similar program here, by collaborating with law librarians. Since Melanie was also co-chair of the Manitoba Bar Association’s Legal Research Section (with Darla Rettie, a colleague of my firm), all of a sudden the program went from a fantasy to a possibility.

We arranged a meeting between Darla, Melanie, and several Winnipeg law firm and government library staff to determine if there was a need for the program, and if so, how would we do it. As trainers of articling and summer students, and junior associates, we’re well aware of the need for legal research training that takes into account the practical realities of a law firm or the Department of Justice. It didn’t take long to strike a committee, as well as to connect with Eileen Derksen Mead of the Law Society of Manitoba as an additional partner. She was the catalyst to make this come true, by taking on overall administration and organization as well providing inspiration.

Shaunna Mireau (another Slaw contributor) very kindly forwarded to us copies of ELLA’s planning documents, which we used as a template. Our program will run one day, and while it is targeted at articling students, we will open it up to other lawyers who would like a refresher in legal research, or who are new calls to Manitoba, as numbers warrant.

The core committee consisted of Eileen Derksen Mead, Program Counsel – Continuing Education and Competence at the Law Society, Melanie Bueckert and Darla Rettie, and Jodi Turner of Justice Canada, Emma Wood of Tapper Cuddy LLP, Garth Niven of the Great Library, and me. Jodi had participated in the ELLA program several years ago, so she brought that practical experience to the table.

We knew this had to be a hands-on program. These students had just gone through three years of law school lectures, and now they needed to “do” the law. After much brainstorming over lunches provided by the Law Society (thank you very much!), we developed a format that would cover all the branches of legal research in one day – from the research interview all the way through to writing the memo. With a maximum registration of 60, students would be divided into four groups. The whole group would get the problem, and then break out into sessions covering commentary, case law, forms and precedents, and legislation. I don’t want to give too much more away, except to say that Darla created a query that covers all of these situations and could very well have come from her own practice.

The lawyers on the committee recruited expert colleagues for the presentations, and paired them with Emma and me (Melanie once compared this to the “one of us, one of them” practice of the tv show Heroes). Taking into account that a number of firms don’t have library staff, we included a tour of the Great Library and meeting with the staff there (Garth, Ron Rennie and Wilf Scharbach). This will be the legislation section of the program, led by Jodi.

Of course, I had ulterior motives for participating in this project. There are very few private law firm librarians or library technicians in Winnipeg. Part of it is because there aren’t that many firms large enough to support a private library. I knew this would be an amazing opportunity to showcase our profession to a new generation of lawyers and enhance our individual reputations within our own firms or government departments.

We’re finalizing the presentations and the materials now. Registration has been open for a month, and we’re over halfway to our maximum, with a waiting list of summer students who would like to be included. When Melanie first approached me about this program, I was skeptical about pulling it off. I wanted it to work, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to put in the work involved in making it happen. I’d underestimated the power of a team. Now I can hardly wait for bootcamp, legal research style!

(Cross-posted to Library technician dialog)


  1. That’s some fine prairie innovation Karen. :) Congratulations on getting all the right stakeholders to the table, and in helping to demonstrate the fine work of Librarians!

    You noted the lack of full-time library staff. Are there any firms that currently job-share positions? Has that ever been discussed?

  2. Karen Sawatzky

    That’s an interesting idea. The closest I’m aware of to job sharing is one person who maintains the libraries at several different firms. Some of those firms also have full time staff but others don’t.

    I had a colleague who filled in for me for vacations, but once she was hired part-time with Justice Canada, she was no longer allowed to work at any other law library. Private firms don’t seem to have the same conflict. It probably would just take an entrepreneuial person to approach some of the smaller firms and give it a try.

  3. Melanie Bueckert

    Thanks for this great publicity, Karen! Of course, you’ve downplayed your own crucial role in having this event move forward. I think this program is a great example of how lawyers & librarians can work together on legal education initiatives.

    If you don’t already have a program like this established in your jurisdiction, I would encourage you to start one up.

    And now for the blatant promotional spiel: here is a link to the promotional flyer and registration form for the event.

  4. Shaunna Mireau

    I am so glad you decided to post about this Karen, Best of luck for the program. I am sure that your students will learn a lot and appreciate all your efforts.