Fodder for Analogies

Playing in the dirt

Happy Canada Day! Since it is a holiday day, my family is working on chores around the homestead. Today’s chore for the parents is continuing with backfilling for our current building project. This is the kind of chore that gives a person time to think.

I have been operating a jumping jack while my husband uses our tractor to put dirt in the trench around out new insullated concrete form foundation walls.

I think learning to use this tool and carrying out the task of packing dirt is an excellent analogy for the legal research process.

First, for any task you need some instruction. Before you use a jumping jack you have to know how to turn it off. A jumping jack is a heavy and potentially dangerous tool. You need to know the properties of how it acts in certain situations. For example, if you are going up a slight rise, push down on the back and lean in to the machine (while keeping your feet out of the way).

Having some instruction on how to use tools is an important part of legal research tasks too.

The next important thing to know about using a jumping jack is where to start. If you are filling in a trench like we are, a good place to start is with a shovel, not a jumping jack. It is important to make the dirt as flat as possible with a shovel since a jumping jack is heavy, doesn’t climb hills easily, and although it is possible, it is much easier to start with a prepared area.

Can you think of a better analogy for using a textbook before jumping in to a case law database to complete a legal research task?

When you start using a jumping jack you need to remember some simple rules:

  • keep your feet out of the way
  • hang on but be flexible
  • direct it but don’t force it
  • watch where the exhaust is so you don’t start a fire
  • start where the dirt is densest (the top of the pile) and work out to the edges
  • listen to the machine – there isn’t a gas gauge so you have to pay attention
  • don’t be afraid but show the tool respect
  • don’t work beyond your abilities

These rules work for legal research too:

  • keep your ego out of the way…it is ok to start with a text, even if you are familiar with an area of law
  • be flexible with what you find but hang on to your research plan
  • watch what the cost is so that you don’t start a fire
  • start at the top (SCC cases) and work out to less authoritative resource
  • go back to the client’s problem. Make sure you are answering the right question
  • don’t be afraid to come to a conclusion, respect the client’s desired outcome
  • don’t work beyond your abilities…ask for clarification and help when you get stuck

The last rule for using a jumping jack is to use the proper safety equipment – hearing protection, proper footwear, gloves, perhaps a back brace. The safety equipment is specific for each tool. The proper tools for a legal research question depend on the question.

And there my analogy ends.

Gotta go, I have a pile of dirt to make flat. Happy Canada Day!


  1. Wendy Reynolds

    Wonderful! I’m inspired to think about some similar analogies that don’t involve loud equipment and life-threatening situations.

    Hope you had lots of fun with your dirt.

  2. Great analogy! I really like it!
    Recently I started posting interestnig analogies I found on the web on I thought it could be a good idea to create a place where people can share useful analogies such as yours.