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TLA helps lawyers of all ages develop better research skills

By Staff

Young lawyers have the most to gain from the Toronto Lawyers Association’s (TLA) practical approach to teaching legal research skills, its executive director Joan Rataic-Lang tells

Rataic-Lang says the TLA's wide range of free services, including case law research for members, appeals to lawyers of all ages. However, staff at the association's Courthouse Library base inside 361 University Ave., adjust their approach depending on the experience of the person in front of them.

“It’s different when a lawyer who’s been doing it for 20 or 30 years asks you to do some research, compared with a brand new call or articling student,” she says. “With new calls or articling students we will try to help them learn.

“Our approach is more hands-on and needs-based, as opposed to one that is heavy on theory, so we teach them as they work,” Rataic-Lang says.

The library staff can perform varied types of legal research, she says, including finding statutes, noting up cases, or finding journal articles.

“Our librarians are specialists at legal research,” Rataic-Lang says.

But the same can’t always be said of fresh graduates from the law faculties across the country, who are often lacking in that department.

“The focus at law school is more on training lawyers than training researchers,” she explains. “But if they take the time to come in and speak to us, we can walk them through the process.”

As well as the TLA’s dedicated education program for articling students, Rataic-Lang says staff members are happy to answer research questions by phone or in person.

The association's basic approach is the same for those whose years out from their call is measured in decades, rather than months, she says.

“There are a number of print resources that they may have relied on in the past that are now only available electronically, so we will show them how to access them,” TLA's executive director says. “If our librarians can take five or 10 minutes while we're doing a Westlaw or QuickLaw search to explain what the software is doing and how to approach searches, that can be very valuable.”

Rataic-Lang says members are frequently — and pleasantly — surprised by the breadth of services available at the TLA, which receives some financial support from the Law Society of Ontario.

“We rely on our membership dues to make sure that the library is well stocked, and matched to their needs,” she says.

Rataic-Lang says that means providing resources with an emphasis on family, employment, real estate and will, and estates law — the types of areas members in small and sole practices are more likely to operate in.

“If you’re a general litigator, it’s not realistic to expect to have a good collection that covers everything, because the prices in the legal publishing world are very expensive,” she says. “We’re invaluable to them because we’ve got everything they need.”

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