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Legal Research Tips for the DIY Client

Legal Research Tips for the DIY Client

With a proper case strategy, your goal of becoming a Canadian is within reach.

Access to Justice

Since 1973 the Government of Canada has strived to deliver access to justice by providing people with affordable services (legal aid) and easily navigable resources (legal education and information) essential to tackle their legal problems. 

On August 13, 2018, Zahra Jimale, West Coast LEAF’s Director of Law Reform, expressed her opinion on the current state of access to justice in an interview with Thomas Cromwell, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice:

The complexity of the system, long delays, lack of access to affordable and timely legal advice and representation, and lack of adequately funded legal aid system continue to widen the gap . . . Unfortunately, we are far from seeing meaningful access to justice.

In general, Legal Aid Programs across Canada offer assistance to low-income people trying to resolve their criminal, family, immigration, and other matters. 

In the legal information context, access to justice benefits are particularly well-suited to the needs of well-educated immigrants. However, the ugly truth of legal research is explained in John Koh’s book review on Legal Research Handbook:

Legal research can be mysterious. At times there seems to be an endless ocean of possible materials to sift through in searching a single issue or a set of issues. Legal publications are often not self-explanatory and it can be difficult to understand the relationships between different materials. We need help. (p.641, 1993)

If you have never done legal research before, you should consult with an authorized representative at before attempting to represent yourself. A competent counsel will be able to advise you on your options and possible success rate during a consultation. 

It is high time to reinvent the access to justice policy by offering guidance in a cost-effective manner. You could take advantage of a consultation or limited support billed on an hourly basis. When a legal professional manages only a specific stage of your file, it is more economical to pay for services based on hourly rate billing.

Online Legal Research

The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) is a non-profit organization managed by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada since 2001. Its goal is to provide free access to Canadian law on the internet. Therefore, CanLII publishes case law, statutes, regulations, and some tribunal decisions online.

The three basic steps of legal research consist of: 
  1. Identifying the relevant issue(s) after analyzing the facts;
  2. Finding the applicable law; and
  3. Applying the law.
Ignorance is no excuse. No legal professional knows the law without having to look it up. Challenges could arise when attempting to complete the above tasks, since:
  1. Hidden issues could be difficult to detect;
  2. Laws, regulations, and policies are changing constantly; and
  3. Creative analysis of case law is required when one can only find conflicting decisions or no binding authority.
Eventually, one must reach a conclusion based on the results. 

Even though more tools are available thanks to technological advances, the task has become harder due to:
  1. Overregulation;
  2. Increase in litigation; and
  3. Greater promotion of opinions.

First, you must plan your research by contemplating the following questions:
  1. What do you want?
  2. What are the relevant facts?
  3. What are the issues (key phrases)?
  4. What is the area of law?
Second, you may start your research through Google’s search engine, as it is quite sensitive to immigration and citizenship issues. For example, you can easily find Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Manuals and Operational Bulletins to lead you to the law. Then, you must turn to CanLII’s database, government (e.g. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Canada Border Services Agency) websites, and court (Federal Court of Canada) and tribunal (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada) websites to navigate and manage resources to build a solid case. 

Third, consider whether you are writing a submission (letter or brief) or arguments to be presented orally at a tribunal or port of entry (airport, land, or marine border crossing). 

To polish your text, you should fine-tune your writing skills to incorporate the KISS (Keep It Simple and Short) method. Keep in mind, decision-makers are very busy people who just want to see a clear and concise version of your case. Thus, I recommend the textbook by Richard C. Wydick and Amy E. Sloan, Plain English for Lawyers (2019), 6th Edition, Carolina Academic Press.

Furthermore, let John Swaigen and Jasteena Dhillon guide you on your journey of becoming a fearless self-representing litigant with the textbook Administrative Law: Principles and Advocacy (2016), 3rd Edition, Emond Montgomery Publications.

When introducing my Immigration Consultant Program students at Herzing College (Toronto campus) to immigration law and legal researching techniques, I show them videos to make it more practical. If this will help you, click on the links below to see how to access CanLII's annual statutes and on proceedings before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada.

Finally, you should examine your thoughts and feelings carefully to see whether you have what it takes to embark on this risky project.


Information provided in this article does not constitute immigration or citizenship advice. Authorized representatives are the only individuals allowed to assist applicants with immigration and citizenship services for a fee. In addition, immigration laws, regulations, and policies are changing constantly. 

If you need help with the assessment of your case, then obtain sound immigration or citizenship advice from one of the authorized representatives at Only with a proper case strategy can you reach your goal of Canadian permanent residence or citizenship. 


John Koh, Legal Research Handbook, 1993 25-3 Ottawa Law Review 641, 1993 CanLIIDocs 53, <>, retrieved on 2019-02-21

About the author

Katharina Kontaxis[CICC ID: R512662]
KIS Migration Inc. offers Canadian immigration and citizenship consulting services. Its business model of Keeping It Simple is key to success. KIS Migration Inc. assists you on your journey to Canada while making the process easy for you.
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