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Student Guide for Legal Research

What Are They?

If you are ever asked to draft a document and have no idea where to start, don’t worry! There are many examples and forms that you can look at to get an idea of what a certain legal document is supposed to look like. 

You may be wondering exactly what  a precedent or a form is, especially if you have never come across them before. Precedents and forms can be samples of common legal documents (employment agreements), forms that are legislated by statute or regulation (such as a statement of claim), or even a document that has evolved through common use to become the accepted standard (retainer letter). 

Using precedents and forms can not only save you time, but also help you understand the structure of common legal documents and what is expected to be included.  You may also be required to use a certain form for court documents. Regulations and rules such as the Rules of Civil Procedure often require a certain format for pleadings and other document submissions. It is important that you tailor the form or precedent to your specific situation. Most of the time, these precedents and forms serve as just samples and frameworks, not complete "fill in the blanks". 

For more information on precedents and forms, look to our research guide Research 101: How to Find Forms and Precedents.

General Sources

  • O'Brien's (both Print & Westlaw)
    • O'Brien's is divided into divisions and so has a wide variety of precedents and forms across many areas of law. Not all of the divisions are currently available through Westlaw, though we subscribe to all of them in print.
      • Division I. Commercial and general
      • Division II. Corporations
      • Division III. Conveyancing and mortgages
      • Division IV. Leases
      • Division V. Wills and trusts
      • Division VI. Ontario: Family law
      • Division VII. Labour relations and employment
      • Division VIII. Ontario: Court forms
      • Division IX. Municipal Corporations
      • Division X. Computers and information technology


  • Canadian Forms and Precedents (both Print & Lexis)
    • Like O'Brien's, Canadian Forms and Precedents is a multi-volume loose-leaf collection that focuses on different areas of law. Canadian Forms and Precedents is also useful for drafting commentary. The divisions include:
      • Banking & Finance
      • Commercial Tenancies
      • Corporations
      • Debtor/Creditor
      • Employment
      • Information Technology & Entertainment
      • Intellectual Property
      • Licensing
      • Municipal Law
      • Sale and Operation of a Business
      • Sale, Distribution & Transport of Goods
      • Wills & Estates
  • Lexis Practical Guidance (formerly Practice Advisor)
    • An online platform which contains content updated by practicing lawyers. This database not only contains precedents and forms, but also practice notes, sample clauses, checklists, tables, flowcharts, and diagrams. This resource is very similar to Thomson Reuters' product known as Practical Law, which the library currently does not subscribe to. The practice areas we subscribe to are:
      • Capital Markets and M&A
      • Commercial
      • Corporate and Private M&A
      • Employment
      • Family Law (Ontario)
      • Intellectual Property & Technology
      • Litigation & Dispute Resolution
      • Personal Injury (Ontario)
      • Wills, Trusts & Estates (Ontario)


  • Ontario Court Forms
    • A free resource for forms that are enabled under a certain piece of legislation or set of rules. A few notable Rules include the Family Law Rules, Rules of Civil Procedure, and Rules of the Small Claims Court. 


How to Search

While it is easy to browse large collections of forms and precedents such as O'Brien's or Canadian Forms and Precedents, sometimes you may have to search the catalogue for specific forms.

Continuing Professional Development articles published by legal organizations such as the Law Society of Ontario or the Ontario Bar Association are a great resource when it comes to looking for sample documents. Unfortunately, they are not easy to browse and thus using specific language when searching our catalogue will help you find what you need.

  • On the main library page, choose the Everything (InfoLocate).
  • In the Search box, enter form? to ensure that you are retrieving the terms "form" and "forms"; then enter your area of law (e.g. form? AND employment). 

  • You can also use the term precedent?, however, when cataloguing books and online resources, we tend to use the term forms for both forms and precedents.