Non-Print Guides to Legal Research

I believe that the oldest use of media other than print to teach legal research was a videotape with voice-over by Stephen Borins back in the academic year, 1970-1971 in which he ran through a legal research problem which touched on Priestman v. Colangelo and the liability of police officers. It stressed the reliability of the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest and touched briefly on Butterworths Ontario Digest and the Canadian Abridgement.

The tape required a technician from York’s AV division to run it, and was very much talking head with some close-ups of book pages. It might be in a dusty corner of the Law Library up at York – it was never generally released – Harvard came along fifteen years later.

But it was the start. I can’t find anything else until the Shepards video in the Eighties and Part II [originally published without a laugh track](see below) and West’s own guide.

Why mention this dubious piece of legal education trivia? Soon Canada Law Book will release Fish on Legal Research, a DVD by
Bonnie Fish

The blurb describes it thus.

Divided into three parts, this convenient training DVD will help you teach the fundamentals of effective research.

Commentary – 18 minutes
The role of commentary in legal research and helpful guidance on where to find it. This DVD explains how to:

* analyze legal subjects in depth
* formulate legal issues
* find useful commentary
* use commentary to find relevant case law and legislation

Case Law – 25 minutes
How and where to find appropriate and relevant case law. Divided into two segments, this section helps researchers understand:

* why case law is important and the principles to identify significant cases
* the process of finding case law on a specific issue

Legislation 25 minutes
Helpful hints on where to find relevant legislation and what to do with it once you have it. It deals with:

* the legislative process
* techniques for finding legislation
* statutory interpretation

If we can get hold of a review copy, we’ll do a more in depth critique. But in a time of American Youtube legal research videos [and an Australian cartoons] one wonders why a DVD format was chosen, unless CLB thought this was the best way to monetize its investment. Updating will be a challenge.

We’ve gone through research audiotapes (tip of hat to Bob Berring and Tom Reynolds) and Bob Berring’s commando legal research series and the three Harvard Law School Library research videos.

Fish on Legal Research may be wonderful – I hope so – but it’s late in the game of using multimedia to teach students about legal research.


  1. Regarding the DVD format of this upcoming product – while we at Courthouse Libraries BC embrace the internet for delivering training materials like our Researching Legislation series (we’re currently working on a online video-based legal research course) – we quickly found out when we launched our video tutorials that there are some law firms where dvds are still preferred for bandwidth and other reasons. At least one law firm burned our online video tutorials onto disc to be able to use them as part of their inhouse training program.

  2. I prepared a slide and audio show for first-year students at U of T, narrated by Janet Stubbs (who sang for the COC), in the late 1960’s or very early 1970’s. It was produced by the U of T Audio-Visual department though I don’t think that it required a technician to run it. We ran it for a few years until I ceased to be responsible for the topic. I have no idea where the slides might be now.

  3. Gary P. Rodrigues

    It is good to see Canada Law Book finally enter the research guide field. In general, research guides tend to focus on the content of the publisher of the guide and either downplay or ignore alternative sources of the same information. By publishing its own guide in whatever format, Canada Law Book can be assured that Best Case will be given its due.