Book Review – Canadian Guide to Legal Style

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By Kelly Laycock

CanadianGuideLegalStyleCanadian Guide to Legal Style
By Queen’s Law Journal
Toronto: Carswell, 2014
43 pp

 

I first came across this title a few months ago when I was writing a blog post called Source of Style for Legal Sourcery. In that post, I gave a quick overview of a few of my favourite style guides, but they are mostly American sources, and as such, not always applicable to the Canadian legal profession. At the time, I was coming across many contrasting style choices within the Saskatchewan legal profession, and I was looking for a source that I could endorse, but I couldn’t find a single guide that could answer my tougher questions and was forced to create my own in-house style guide for Law Society Library publications.

A style guide is also not a uniform citation guide, which is held to a different standard. Style issues, such as capitalization and how to format a quotation, are arbitrary preferences (ones that should be consistent, yes, but is not wrong or right), but they are issues that come up regularly and not every instance is easily classified. It is necessary to have a quick reference at your fingertips to remind you which way to go. But also, the idea behind using a style guide is that when you are questioned about your arbitrary choices, you have some “authority” to fall back on that others are also using and are familiar with. That is how things become standardized. And right now, there are no Canadian guides that legal professionals are willing to fall back on.

With this new publication from Carswell, we see one response to this gaping hole in Canadian legal publishing. So I’m excited to give you my opinion on this specifically Canadian legal style guide.

The Queen’s Law Journal tells us in the Foreword to this book that the journal is “one of Canada’s leading refereed law reviews, publishing high-quality legal scholarship in English and French” and that it is run by a student board of editors who work under the guidance of a faculty advisor. That in itself can have its drawbacks, as pointed out by Louis Mirando in his article on SLAW entitled Legal Citation: Beyond the McGill Guide.

First of all, how much experience and knowledge do these students really have of the legal profession in action? Why should we trust their preferences when each incarnation of this guide will have a different set of student editors imposing different preferences? As the McGill Guide has shown, sometimes a student-vetted guide can make decisions that get the profession up in arms (such as removing all periods from citations back in the memorable 7th edition). Secondly, Mirando points out that being published by Carswell is automatically a commercial arrangement where the bottom line is, well, the bottom line.

That being said, one benefit to a guide written by students at a respected law journal is that they have a lot riding on producing a guide that will be seen by the profession as useful and authoritative. There is a great responsibility in that, and as such, they will have done their best to ensure they meet those expectations by doing their research. Being published by a legal publisher adds to that image.

In his article, Mirando gives a blasé rejection of this new style guide without offering his reasons. What he does say is this:

Let ChicagoMLA (Modern Language Association) or other qualified resource (but please not the new, grandly but inappropriately named Canadian Guide to Legal Style, compiled by the students of the Queen’s Law Journal and recently published by Carswell) be our guides for all matters relating to formatting, punctuation and style, as well as for citing non-legal materials and resources.

But the problem with Chicago and MLA, aside from being American resources, is that they don’t deal specifically with legal styles. Yes, Chicago does have a small section entitled “Legal and Public Documents” in their Documentation section, and even a few subheadings about Canadian citations, but nowhere will it tell you whether Appellant should or shouldn’t be capitalized, or if periods are required with initialized case names. The Canadian Guide to Legal Style is perhaps not so “grandly named”; right now, it stands as the only source ready to give us guidance based on the Canadian legal tradition.

That fact alone, of course, does not mean that this short guidebook should automatically receive high praise. It must prove its worth, like any other, and I can say that upon first read, it at least provides solutions to the major issues of inconsistency I’ve come across in my own research. I don’t necessarily agree with all of their proposed solutions, but where our opinions differ, I recognize the sources they’ve likely consulted to make that decision. I must say that many of their choices are in line with my own, highly researched, preferences. To me this indicates that they have put in more than a cursory effort and they’ve done due diligence in their research. This in itself makes it a valuable resource for those who don’t have the time or inclination to go to that amount of effort.

A few things I heartily approve:

  • Single spaces only
  • They take my view on the Oxford comma
  • Capping but not italicizing Act and Code when not part of the name
  • Spell out the words section, subsection and rule and keep them in lowercase: section 7, rule 24

A few things I question:

  • Use periods in abbreviations like Ltd. and Inc. generally, but not in the style of cause (see pp 3 to 4). Potentially confusing and somewhat inconsistent.
  • In abbreviations for titles like J, JJ or JJA, they’ve taken out the periods, but don’t discuss the use of commas at all. “The latest decision from Kent J is incoherent.” Where have all the commas gone? (I.e., The latest decision from Kent, J, is incoherent.)
  • Some Latin words are italicized but some aren’t (p 7). Prima facie is not as common as they seem to think!
  • Don’t even get me started on their deletion of all true ellipses. Spaces have no place between ellipsis points in my humble opinion. Ever! (Clearly these editors are not typesetters…)

So, yeah, there are a few issues I have with the guide, but I have similar issues with every style guide I’ve ever used. That is why house styles exist at publishing companies. But even as I look at my lists above, I realize that if all the general style issues (which are covered in Chicago and MLA, for example) were stripped away and only legal issues were discussed, this book could have been published as a pamphlet. What it does have going for it, though, is its Canadian legal examples and content.

I’m afraid it doesn’t provide the stand-alone authority I’m looking for, but it does offer a few solutions no other guides I’ve come across deal with, so I’m happy to have it in my arsenal.

Please stop by the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library if you are interested in checking out this new legal resource. Call Number: KF 250 .Q3 2014.

 

In the Legal Sourcery book review, new, thought-provoking, and notable library resources are reviewed. If you would like to read any of the resources reviewed, please contact our library at reference@lawsociety.sk.ca or (306) 569-8020. Let us know if there is a book you would like reviewed.

 

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