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Commercial Law

Legal research can be complex. This guide is intended to highlight some key resources and search techniques, but it is unlikely that it will completely answer all questions about Business Law. If you need further help, please don't hesitate to contact a librarian using our AskUs services or stop by the SFU Library at your local campus.

PowerPoint from October 2009 presentation

Where can I look up the definitions of legal terms?

  • The Dictionary of Canadian law [print]
  • Canadian law dictionary [print]
  • British dictionary of law
  • Black's Law Dictionary [print] -- US source, be careful using non-Canadian sources - meanings can vary between countries and legal materials tend to involve extremely specific definitions of words!

Can I find textbooks or commentaries by lawyers and other writers on my topic?

Secondary literature -- e.g., books and articles by lawyers and others commenting on a case or law -- can be an excellent way to learn the basics around a legal issue. It's probably a good idea to look for relevant secondary literature before you start looking at laws and cases.

  • Index to Canadian Legal Literature available via LawSource -- the best general tool for searching for secondary legal literature. "ICLL, a fully bilingual periodical index, is Canada’s only comprehensive legal bibliography, containing books, articles, government publications, audiovisual materials, continuing legal education materials, case comments and annotations in English and French." You can search it using the link inside of LawSource under "Custom Search Templates." Note: the ICLL only provides brief descriptions of articles. You'll need to check the SFU Library catalogue to see if we have the journals with the articles on your topic.
  • Law Reports Articles & Journals section also in LawSource -- covers both key law journals and many law reports such as the Business Law Reports, Canadian Cases on the Law of Torts, Canadian Cases on Employment, and the Construction Law Reports. 
  • SFU Library Catalogue -- the Library may have entire books on the topic you're interested in. For example, a keyword search contracts law canada produces over 5000 titles, including some classic textbooks on this subject.
  • The Canada Corporations Law Reporter [print] -- provides "commentary, precedents and policies [including citations for key cases] on the primary federal corporation statute, the Canada Business Corporations Act, as well as on other important federal acts, such as the Competition Act, Bankruptcy & Insolvency Act, Investment Canada Act, and Canada Corporations Act."

Where can I find the text of laws and regulations?

The text of laws and regulations is generally available from governmental websites, either federal or provincial. However, these free public websites are often a year or more out of date. If your topic is one where the law may have changed recently, you must get an up-to-date version of the law.

  • For BC Acts and regulations, the most up-to-date source is BC Laws.
  • For other jurisdictions in Canada, use LawSource. As with QP Legalize, there's a browse function in the left margin. If you'd like to search the text of all laws by keyword, use the Custom Search Template for Legislation.
One of the nice extra features in LawSource is that it will tell you which cases (if any) have considered the section of the law you are looking at. Once you've found the specific section of the legislation that you are researching, click on the Related Info tab, then on Citing References to get a list of cases that have cited that part of the law.

If the free public websites have what you need, here are some websites for federal and BC laws and regulations:

How can I find law cases on my topic?

When you are looking for a case, what you are really looking for is the judgment handed down by the judge(s) at the end of a legal action. The judgment usually gives a summary of the case, the issues involved, the arguments made, and the reasons for the final verdict. Other court documents (such as a transcript of what was actually said) are not readily available.

How can I find cases relevant to the legal issue I'm interested in? Frequently your textbook will refer to major cases in discussing the law on your topic. For most broad legal topics (e.g. trademarks) any search will return thousands of hits. How are you to know which cases are significant? There are better tools to use than a case law search engine.

  • Use the secondary literature. An article on your topic will almost always refer you to specific relevant cases.
  • Use the Canadian Encyclopedic Digest (CED). This is basically an encyclopedia of Canadian law. You can look up any topic and read a discussion of the legal issues. The CED will always point you to major cases which have established the legal points in question. The CED is available electronically through LawSource.
  • Use the Canadian Abridgement. This is yet another resource which we have available online through LawSource. The Abridgement contains short summaries of important cases. It is organized according to a complex hierarchy of legal topics. If you can locate the appropriate section relevant to your topic, you will find a list of the key cases and the precedents they set.
  • Another way to find a relevant case is to do a keyword search in a database of Canadian magazine and newspaper articles. This is useful for finding prominent cases which have been covered in the media. Some databases to try are CBCA Fulltext Business (business magazines and journals), CBCA Current Events (news magazines and a few newspapers), and Canadian Newsstream (newspapers).

I've got the citation to a specific case. How can I get the judgment?

  • Traditionally judgments are published in series of volumes called "law reports." The WAC Bennett Library (SFU Burnaby) has print law reports series such as Business Law Reports [print]. However, many judgments are available electronically.
  • Some courts (e.g., the Supreme Court of Canada) have made their judgments freely available online. Many of the law reports series are also available in electronic format through LawSource and other similar products.
  • Not every judgment is published, only those where the editors think some new or interesting legal point was established. On the other hand, the judgments of very prominent cases may appear in several law reports. If you check each report, the judgment will be identical.
  • Some law reports focus on a specific jurisdiction or court (e.g., B.C.L.R (BC Law Reports), S.C.R. (Supreme Court [of Canada] Reports), and others on an area of law (e.g., C.C.C. (Canadian Criminal Cases)).

Once you have the citation to a specific case you can try to locate the judgment. However, even just understanding the citation can be a challenge. The following example shows how to parse out the information in a citation.

This report can be found in the 69th volume of the Dominion Law Reports on page 433 (see our guide to law reports). It was tried in the Supreme Court of BC. The "2nd" tells you that the DLR has been published in multiple series; the second series was 1956-68.

This is a criminal case, hence the Queen is the plaintiff. The judgment has been published in three reports series: Criminal Reports (C.R.), Western Weekly Reports (W.W.R.), and Canadian Criminal Cases (C.C.C.).

This all looks rather complicated, and it is, but fortunately, LawSource makes it easy. From the homepage, where it says Case:, you can type in the names of the parties involved. Using the first sample citation above,

lebrun high-low

will take you the judgment of that first case. This works fine so long as the parties don't have common names. If they do have common names, another approach is to type in the legal citation (omit the parentheses) into the Any document by citation box:

69 DLR 2d 433

Using the second approach is probably easier. Even when the parties' names are rare, if a case has been through several levels of appeal you'll find judgments at each level (plus in both official languages for the S.C.R.) so it can be difficult to untangle which citation is the one you want.

What should you do if LawSource does not have the judgment you want? In that case, see the guide to finding print law reports in the SFU Library to find out if the report series is available in Burnaby. Then search for the title of the law report in the SFU Library Catalogue and use the Request Item link to order the specific judgment. You can also Ask a Librarian for help.

There are a number of advanced search features in LawSource which you can explore on your own time. You can use the History link to find out if the case was considered at multiple levels of the court system and whether it was upheld or reversed. Using the Citing References button you can find cases which cite your case.

Where do I find US Case Law and international secondary legal literature?

Key Sources for American and International Legal Information

Background source -- Encyclopedia of White-Collar and Corporate Crime

LexisNexis

  1. Login to LexisNexis
  2. Select the US Legal tab on the left side of the screen and
    • Select Federal & State Cases to find US case law, or,
    • Select Law Reviews to search US law journals, i.e., secondary legal literature, much of which has international content and helpful comparative law articles
  3. Or select International Legal on the left side of the screen and choose among
    • Canadian Cases
    • Canadian Legislation
    • EU, Commonwealth, and Other Nations
    • Canadian Law Journals
  4. Need help? Check out the LexisNexis wiki for tips on finding US cases by topic or citation in SFU Library's LexisNexis database.

HeinOnline

  1. Login to HeinOnline
  2. The Subscribed Libraries section on the left indicates which collections of materials SFU subscribes to within the HeinOnline database
  3. Select Law Journal Library — International & Non-U.S. Law Journals or other categories
  4. Browse by title or click the search tab to search within the journals

Google Scholar

  1. Enter Google Scholar via the SFU Library.
  2. Choose the option "Legal opinions and journals" from the search screen.
  3. Or choose the Advanced Scholar Search option to be able to focus your search on specific states/courts, etc.
  4. For more on this new Google search option, check out their blog post about it.

How do I cite cases and statutes?

Although the APA manual does provide some examples of legal citations, they tend to be all focused on US resources, and they are based on a non-APA format found in The Bluebook: a Uniform System of Citation. To learn more about how to apply this format, start with the following resources. 

  • Legal Citation: a guide by Queens University. Many examples of citations for Canadian legal research resources.
  • The APA Manual (most examples are focused on US cases and statutes).[print]
  • Cite right: a quick guide to citation styles--MLA, APA, Chicago, the sciences, professions, and more by Charles Lipson. [print] Part II, Chapter 12 deals with the Bluebook style of legal citation mentioned in the APA Manual.
  • In general, remember that no style guide can cover every situation you might encounter. Work from the examples you have and focus on providing unambiguous information for your reader so that they can quickly find the exact same items that you used in your research.

Other SFU Library resources

If the resources and search tips listed above haven't answered your question, then you may want to consult some of our broader guides to legal and library research written by our Criminology Librarian (e.g., How to find legal cases by citation).

A final word: remember that you can always ask for assistance if you're having trouble finding material on your topic. Please come and see us in the Library, or check the AskUs page to find out other ways of contacting us. Good luck with your research!