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Finding journal articles

This article was written by Michael Dew, a Vancouver lawyer who practices civil litigation. Click here for contact information and further details about Michael’s practice. This article provides only information, not legal advice. If you require legal advice you should consult a lawyer. 

Research articles : 
This article provides guidance on finding journal articles on substantive points of law. Although some of the sources listed have a British Columbia focus, many of them contain articles from across Canada.
Sources for finding articles
Canadian Bar Review articles
The website of the Canadian Bar Association contains Bar Review articles dating back to 1923 available in pdf format. Users can browse for articles or search by author, keyword etc.
Unfortunately access is only available for Canadian Bar Association members, but the student membership rates are not unreasonable.
BCCHLS Database
The first place to check if you are located in British Columbia is the “BC Legal Literature Index” which searches the Advocate and the Verdict. The Advocate in particular has very high quality articles and finding an article on point may put an end to your search.
Unfortunately, to obtain the article you will have to copy it from the actual journal.
Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia
CLE has regular conferences covering most areas of law, and the papers presented and these conferences are very useful.
The database can be searched for free:
I normally use the advances search facility and uncheck all “areas” except “Course Materials” and “Practice Materials”.
To obtain copies of the papers, a paid subscription to CLE is required. However, the British Columbia Courthouse Libraries have subscriptions the public can use, and hardcopies of most of the papers.
British Columbia Law Institute
The British Columbia Law Institute considers law reform on all areas of law and publishes their reports on their website. Look in the “publications” section. Only about 6 or 7 articles are published each year, but if an article has been published recently on the area you are researching, it will likely be extremely helpful.
The site has search capabilities to search the site itself as well as a database of law reform papers from other jurisdictions.
A paid subscription is required.
Quicklaw contains an electronic (fully searchable) version of the ICLL: Index to Canadian Legal Literature. This search covers a bibliography of Canadian secondary source legal literature since 1985. Only the titles of the publications will be retrieved, generally you will have to go to the hardcopy to review the actual article, although QL does have some of the articles in electronic form.
Full text searches of articles can be done by clicking on the “commentary” and “articles” tabs on the main search screen.
A paid subscription is required. Various level of subscription are available. The BC Courthouse Libraries have a basic level of access which allows searches of the ICLL database. This database is the same one referred to in the Quicklaw section above; it is a database prepared by Carswell and is also available in print.
To search the ICLL database, click “Directory” at the top of the screen, and then enter “ICLL” into the “Search these databases” input field on the left hand side.
If you have a greater level of access the Lawsource section of Westlaw eCarswell includes full text articles. To see what is in Lawsource, see the fourth page of this pdf:
A paid subscription is required, but access is provided at BC courthouse libraries.
LegalTrac is an indexing service, provided though Thomson’s InfoTrac database, that searches all major law reviews, legal newspapers, specialty law publications, bar association journals and thousands of law-related articles from general interest publications dating back to 1980. Legaltrac covers mostly American sources, but does have some Canadian content.
A LegalTrac search will generally not provide access to the actual text of articles, but will provide the citation for the journal containing articles identified in the search.
I have found that Legaltrac has so much on it, and most of it is American, that I don’t bother using it unless I specifically want the American perspective or am researching a very narrow point and am struggling to find Canadian commentary.
A paid subscription is required, but access is provided at BC courthouse libraries.
Unlike Legaltrac and the engines that search the ICLL, HeinOnline is not an index, but a database of actual articles. It covers 450 journals and has over 12 million pages, so searches can take quite long. An advantage of HeinOnline is that it provides direct access to the full text of the articles. HeinOnline covers mostly American sources, but does have some Canadian content.
As with Legaltrac, HeinOnline has so much on it, and most of it is American, that I don’t bother using it unless I specifically want the American perspective or am researching a very narrow point and want to go the extra mile. 
Collections Canada database of theses
A search portal for searching theses produced by graduate students in Canada can be found at
This is a useful tool for searching for theses prepared by graduate law students. Such theses are useful when looking for an in-depth analysis of an issue, including policy arguments.
Law reports
Apart from their primary function of publishing cases, a number of the subject specific law reviews also publish articles. These articles are buried amongst the cases, but can be located using the Consolidated Indexes which are published for each series of reports (look on the library shelf at the end of the series of reports). The best way to look up articles in the Consolidated Indexes is to turn to the "Annotations and articles subject index" section (if it exists) of the Consolidated Index and search the index for the topic you want.
[Another feature of the subject specific law reports which may be useful (although not for finding articles) is to look at the section of the Consolidated Index that groups case annotations by subject area, much like the Canadian Abridgement does].
The following is a list of some of the major subject specific law reports, most of which have Consolidated Indexes including “Annotations and articles subject index” sections:
o       Administrative law reports
o       Business law reports
o       Canadian Bankruptcy Reports
o       Canadian cases on the law of insurance
o       Canadian cases on the law of torts
o       Canadian environmental law reporter
o       Canadian native reports
o       Canadian patent reporter
o       Carswell practice cases
o       Construction law reports
o       Estates and trusts reports
o       Municipal and planning law reports
o       Personal property security act cases
o       Real property reports.
Many of these reports are available electronically in the Lawsource database of Westlaw eCarswell, but a subscription is required.
Insight Information
A conference organization that publishes papers presented at its conferences. A subscription is required.
Other resources related to articles
Tables of contents of selected Canadian law journals
Tables of contents of selected Canadian law journals are provided on the Universite de Sherbrooke website:
This is useful for checking whether key publications have published articles on particular areas in recent editions.
Free articles databases online:
Directory of open access journals
Cambridge University index of electronic law journals
Internet Library of Early Journals - A digital library of 18th and 19th Century journals
New Zealand database of free articles
Other search options
o       Google Scholar: Scholarly literature search engine.
o       JSTOR: Free searchable database of publications on all disciplines.