Legal Sources Part One: Law Reform Materials

My legal research career has taken me to several different settings in different cities or jurisdictions, and one thing I have found interesting is that there has always been a stronger emphasis on some tools in each of my workplaces. For this reason, I decided to write a series of columns that will address particular research materials or sources of law or legal information that, for one reason or another, I found myself using more in some settings than in others and that generally might be otherwise overlooked as excellent resources. This month, the column addresses law reform bodies and the materials they produce and how they can be of use to the researcher.

In the mid-1990s to the early 2000s I worked in Alberta as a research lawyer in a mid-sized Edmonton law firm, a research lawyer in a large Calgary law firm, and as legal counsel in the Alberta Court of Appeal. In each of those positions I took great advantage of materials produced by the Alberta Law Reform Institute. In my early months in the field of legal research practice I discovered the usefulness of ALRI reports and working/discussion papers, primarily because Alberta was undergoing a major revision of its limitation of actions legislation, and sessions were hosted to introduce the Bar to the then-forthcoming changes. The litigation Bar in general was understandably anxious about the implications of those changes, and the limitations act publications were well studied.

Until then, as a recent call to the Bar, I had not been familiar with all ALRI (or law reform bodies generally) had to offer. I discovered that its print reports and discussion papers had been regularly issued to the Alberta legal community for years upon publication (prior to the ubiquity of the web and ALRI’s publication of its materials there). I saw the background analysis, comparative law discussion, and legislative history that was presented in the papers on that topic, and so made a practice of seeking out ALRI materials that might exist in respect of other Alberta legal issues. The limitations law reports also referenced the long-ago proposed legislative change in Ontario which had stalled when the then-existing law reform body ceased operations. Those references helped me realize back then that many reform issues are or have been analyzed in some other jurisdiction at some other time, so research in similar materials from other jurisdictions could be of great assistance.

Later, in the large law firm, in-depth legal analysis was often required, and law reform publications often proved to be an excellent resource. And, at the courts, the appellate judges often addressed difficult or novel legal issues that sometimes themselves led to law reform. Law reform publications were often referenced in factums, or consulted in the court’s analysis and discussions with appellate counsel.

Since then, I have always noted the importance of publications and web sites of law reform bodies in any coaching, mentoring, or formal training I have offered to students or junior lawyers. For reference purposes, here are some links to law reform body web sites or materials for Canada, some of which also offer links to law reform web sites of other jurisdictions:

British Columbia Law Institute,
Alberta Law Reform Institute
Saskatchewan Law Reform Commission
Manitoba Law Reform Commission
Law Commission of Ontario
Quebec Research Centre of Private & Comparative Law
Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia
Uniform Law Conference of Canada
Law Commission of Canada (as archived with the Library and Archives of Canada)


  1. I’m pleased to see your column, Kim. At the LCO, we are conscious of this law reform commission role and have explicitly included taking into consideration these broader benefits of our reports as one of our goals in researching and writing reports (whether this goal is actually achieved remains to be seen, of course, but we have it in mind).