Some counsel on searching case law by counsel

Have you ever needed to search for cases in which a particular lawyer or paralegal acted for one of the parties?  You can try entering the legal practitioner’s name in the full-text search box of a case law database. But this search strategy will likely generate more misses than hits, especially with common surnames. Here are some tips for achieving more relevant results.

WestlawNext Canada and Lexis Advance Quicklaw

When searching in either WestlawNext Canada or Lexis Advance Quicklaw, make sure you select the Advanced search option. This template offers a separate search box for “Counsel”.


While CanLII doesn’t provide a separate search field for counsel, you can improve your search precision by following the following tip courtesy of John Sadler, Director of the John & Dotsa Bitove Family Law Library at Western University*:

“… there is a technique for finding cases in which a particular lawyer appeared for one of the parties. It relies on the fact that most cases follow a uniform syntax when identifying counsel. In a case, for example, when Ms. June L. Carter was counsel, the reasons for judgment say at the beginning of the case something like the following:

                June L. Carter, for the respondent

To search for Ms. Carter’s cases one might try this search in the “Document text” field:

                “Carter for the”

For greater precision, try a qualifier that describes who the lawyer is representing, e.g.:

                “Carter for the respondent”

Other “qualifiers” that could be used include: “accused’, “plaintiff”, “defendant”, “applicant”, “appellant”, etc.

The technique is not foolproof, of course. Sometimes one will get false drops with common surnames. That is, with the first search, one would also pick up cases where John Carter was the counsel. One may need to play around with variations of the counsel’s name – surname only, given name + surname, given name + initial + surname, etc. Still, the above approach is a refinement on simply throwing the lawyer’s name into the search statement.”

*John’s suggested search strategy was posted to the CALL (Canadian Association of Law Libraries) listserv March 7, 2018, in response to the question, “Is there a way to search for ‘counsel’ using CanLII?”. We thank John for permission to share this handy tip.