Queen's Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Queen’s Law professor/librarian wins national award for outstanding academic contributions

(August 9, 2018)

Nancy McCormack, Professor and Law Librarian
Nancy McCormack, Professor and Law Librarian at Queen’s, is an award-winning author whose writing is described as “succinct, yet informative and often witty” commentary on contemporary Canadian legal issues. (Photo by Andrew Van Overbeke)

“Language is our primary tool in law,” says Professor Nancy McCormack, whose passion for English literature helped propel her career in legal academia and librarianship. To many law students, professors and practitioners across Canada, she’s the author of their go-to books on legal research, Canadian legislation and statutory interpretation. But for those at Queen’s, this award-winning Librarian and Associate Professor is also the point person for conducting their research.  

This year, the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL) has selected McCormack for the Michael Silverstein Prize. The prize, established by Thomas Reuters, recognizes her outstanding academic contributions to the enhancement of understanding, analysis and appreciation of primary law – case law and statutes – and legal taxonomy.

“I was just delighted to hear about it,” says McCormack on winning her latest award (she received the Denis Marshall Memorial Award for Excellence in Law Librarianship in 2014). “When you write, you spend a lot of time by yourself, and even though first and foremost, you write for yourself, it’s always great to know that someone else thinks your work has value.” 

McCormack says this with experience, as she is Associate Editor for the Canadian Law Library Review (CALL). She has also co-written the third and fourth editions of The Practical Guide to Canadian Legal Research, in which the late Michael Silverstein, for whom the prize is named, contributed a chapter on the Canadian Abridgment. 

Before studying law, McCormack had a passion for librarianship. After earning graduate degrees in English Literature at McMaster and in Library Science at Western, she worked as a librarian for a law firm. “When lawyers would ask me what I thought about various books, I couldn’t help them, so I decided to go to law school,” she recalls. “Once I got the academic bug, I couldn’t stop. I went on to learn as much as I could.”

That she did. The nomination submitted on McCormack’s behalf includes a lengthy list of publications and refers to her writing as “succinct, yet informative and often witty” commentary on contemporary Canadian legal issues. Her authored and co-authored publications include: How to Understand Statutes and Regulations, 2nd ed. (Carswell, 2017), Annotated Federal Interpretation Act (Carswell, 2016); Introduction to the Law and Legal System of Canada (Carswell, 2013); Managing Burnout in the Workplace: A Guide for Information Professionals (Oxford: Chandos, 2013); and Statutes and Regulations for all Canadian Jurisdictions, 5th ed. (Carswell, 2012).

In her latest writing project, she’s the sole editor and compiler of the fifth edition of The Dictionary of Canadian Law (Thomson Reuters), a mammoth endeavour at approximately 1,400 pages, due to be published in 2019. “It’s like painting the Brooklyn Bridge,” says McCormack, “By the time you get to one end, it’s time to start over at the beginning. I have researched roughly 31,000 definitions and probably re-worked or re-written 90 per cent of them.” 

That work has included looking at all recent legislative and judicial definitions since the fourth edition was published in 2011; adding new definitions such as “disciplinary segregation,” “sweethearting,” “walk-and-turn test” and “Cannabis retail outlet” that were not included in the previous edition; and correcting loosely translated Latin phrases and maxims. 

Despite (or perhaps because of) the sheer volume of work, McCormack thinks her latest writing project is “fun,” seeing it as the perfect blend of her early passion for literature, and that for law. “I’m pleased with the results so far,” she said, “I started at the As almost two years ago, and am now closing in on Z.”

This summer, McCormack is also getting ready to teach first-year Torts classes instead of her usual legal research classes for upper-year and graduate students. It’s an assignment she looks forward to. “So much of law is about language and stories,” she says. “Tort law is all about that, and I’m looking forward, among other things, to sharing the great fact situations that appear in some of law’s most memorable cases.”

By Aschille Clarke-Mendes