Adding Value: Research Tips
Updated: May 17, 2019
This is part of a series where I want to share some of the things I learned along the way as a first-generation lawyer with a non-conventional pathway to law, and I hope that this space will serve as a tool for others to take and add value in their own life. This is not legal advice and as always, this represents my own views. Take what you like and leave what you don’t like. This is your journey—carve out your own pathway on your own terms! You can read more here. You can buy me a coffee here if you found anything that added value to your own journey, legal or not.
Use the tools that are available to you without adding more work for yourself.
I was providing legal research and support to a research project in the area of Indigenous law. I worked directly with the lawyer leading the project. At the time, the government was enacting legislation and the lawyer was invited to provide testimony at a standing committee in the senate. This means that the lawyer was one of the experts on a panel providing information on a particular subject which the senate would consider in its deliberations on this legislation. I was tasked with reviewing past testimony of past experts for the same committee on the same legislation.
In completing this task, I wrote to the senate committee and I asked to be put on the list to receive meeting notices and transcripts for research purposes. By doing this, I would receive all the meeting notices and the experts to be invited for each meeting. I would receive the draft transcripts immediately the day after the meeting. This meant I had immediate access to past testimony before it was placed on the public facing website. This was helpful for me because the lawyer had to go to the committee in a short turnaround and there would be meetings in advance but no way to review the draft transcripts unless you waited for their release, or if you watched online or visited in person. I did not want to waste time watching videos or going in to watch the panels. Watching videos and going in person is cool if you have the time. I just didn’t have the time. You can do this with almost any committee. The only downside is if you do not know how to contact the committee. Generally, there is a clerk and/or administrative-type person assisting the committee. Find that person.
On top of doing this, a few days before the lawyer went to the committee, I compiled a list of the senators who sat, at the time, on the committee and provided a background on each senator including whether they were “independent” or not. I provided an overview of things senators said on the legislation or issues affecting the legislation. I provided a list of high level points of what past experts stated and what kind of questions were asked (or not asked). I also provided a list of potential items to focus on based on past questions and statements by both senators and experts. Generally, when going to committee you have to predict what may be asked or that you may not be asked anything. You have to say the right thing or have the senators (or politicians if you go to a committee of Parliament) ask the right questions. For example, when I testified at the standing committee on justice and human rights, I was asked a range of questions including whether I met anyone under the age of 18 in prostitution or whether I felt prostitution was a choice. I knew I would be asked these questions and I came prepared knowing that I had to say the things to respond to these questions but also say things on stuff I would not be asked like how Indigenous women experience violence and it is a result of state violence, including criminalization of prostitution.
The lawyer did not ask me to do all of the above. The lawyer only asked me to review, if I recall correctly, past testimony. However, I provided added value by knowing that I could access the transcripts of recent meetings including meetings immediately the day before the lawyer went to the committee. I did not have to do much because the list of meeting notices was online but I could receive the names and any changes to meeting notices almost simultaneously without having to go to the website over and over again to check. The notices and transcripts went straight to my email. I could easily add a high level review of past testimony to the briefing note that I prepared for the lawyer as the emails came in and I provided updates including immediately the day before the lawyer went to committee. Admittedly, I was more than happy to do this for the lawyer because the interaction between policy makers and experts fascinate me (#nerdlife).
You can do this for almost any committee and if you have a lawyer who is monitoring a certain issue or legislation. I recommend you do this as soon as possible at the start of your articles if you know your supervising lawyers will be working with issues or legislation that go to committee. Also, you can do this as a law student if you have a special interest in a certain area of law and you are researching a certain area of law!