You need to keep up with developments in the law. You do not always have to become fully familiar with some legal topic or new development. You need to know that it exists, and what sort of things it might affect. And recognize what fact situations might trigger it.
Why is keeping up with recent case law important? For 7 reasons:
Now courts are more venturesome and unpredictable; some rulings are counterintuitive.
New decisions remind you of law you half forgot.
When reading a new case, ask yourself how the fight arose: did some lawyer give careless advice? Or was some lawyer caught by an argument or development unexpected and hard to foresee?
You learn what sort of people are litigating these days, and about what. For example, are employers still suing former employees for stealing clients or secrets?
You learn what sort of things are hard to prove, and what evidence is or is not strong enough to win. Solicitors need to know that.
You learn more signs of a crank or totally unreasonable litigant or client.
You see disputes and rulings which you or your opponents might adapt or apply by analogy, though on the surface they do not seem to apply to you or your clients. You may confine your practice to one or two fields, but most judges do not: they hear every type of case.
Headnotes for court decisions help. They quickly tell you which cases are likely totally irrelevant to you. And they reveal a useful point buried amidst irrelevant topics. But for most courts, you cannot get headnotes quickly, or free. Hard-copy law reports with headnotes are now harder to access, more expensive, and offer only a small fraction of decisions. Does your law firm subscribe to a commercial website of court decisions with headnotes, which site is fairly prompt and complete? Reading it might be a good compromise.
Occasionally, borrow a new edition of a textbook, look at the table of contents, and spend a few minutes on a chapter or two which display many recent citations.
Do not let your eyes get bigger than your tummy. Too ambitious a reading goal will make you fall behind, get discouraged, dislike such reading, and end up not reading any law at all. Pare down your selection criteria to what is manageable. Then stick to it. Devise a personal procedure which ensures that you keep up. Having to look through a whole month's decisions from your province's superior courts is likely too discouraging.
– Hon. J.E. Côté
The Commentaries are intended to call the attention of lawyers to promising or threatening developments in the law, in civil procedure, in developing their skills, or simply to describe something curious, funny or intriguing.
Justice Côté recently retired from the Court of Appeal of Alberta and currently acts as an arbitrator, mediator, or referee under Rules 6.44 and 6.45 of the Alberta Rules of Court.