The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Yves Faguy


Free access to law, open data and disruption

By Yves Faguy August 2, 2013 2 August 2013

When discussing innovation and disruption in the context of the law profession, we tend to focus on traditional law firms and their readiness (willingness?) to adapt to disruptions being brought about by a new kind of legal service provider. 

How odd then to think that one of the most helpfully disruptive players on the legal scene in Canada over the last 10 years has been the Canadian Legal Information Institute, the non-profit outfit funded by the Federation of Law Societies and member of the “free access to law” movement. I say helpfully, because most “traditional” lawyers would agree that CanLII, in its relatively short existence, has impressed by deploying a convenient and inexpensive legal research tool (not free, as a portion of law society fees paid by each lawyer in Canada goes to CanLII’s budget).  Of course, established legal publishers in this country might feel somewhat differently about CanLII’s contribution.

Things are about to get even more interesting as CanLII moves ahead with plans for a second website  that will act as a social and public portal for sharing information about Canadian court decisions.  And in September, it will be co-hosting a hackathon in Ottawa, where developers from the open data community and members of the legal community will come together to build apps and online tools that improve public understanding of the law.

Really, the message here is that CanLII's API is freely accessible to anyone willing to tap into the metadata of one of Canada’s largest collections of legislation and current case law to conceive and create applications of value -- be it socially, commercially or otherwise. So kudos to CanLII and the law societies for playing a role in stimulating innovation and enterprise in the use of open data.

In the above video, Colin Lachance, the president and CEO of CanLII, spoke to us about the project.

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15 things you didn't know about CanLII

By Yves Faguy July 31, 2013 31 July 2013

Last week I caught up with Colin Lachance, president and CEO of CanLII, to interview him about an upcoming “hackathon” CanLII will be hosting with Ottawa U’s Centre for Law, Technology and Society. We’ll have more on the hackathon, which aims to foster innovation in improving access to legal and public information, later this week. Over lunch, Colin made the point that there is whole lot about CanLII that people don’t know.  "Really," I said:  “Like what?”  Well, quite a bit, it turns out.  Here is a list of 15 things, compiled by Colin, that you likely didn’t know about CanLII:

  1. CanLII is the single most consulted electronic legal information resource among Canadian lawyers.

  2. Launched in August 2000 with only 19 collections and 20,000 documents, CanLII now has 1.2M documents across over 210 collections.

  3. Most consulted documents every month: Criminal Code of Canada, Quebec Civil Code, Income Tax Act, Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure.

  4. Other regular contenders for a “Top 5” showing: Ontario Employment Standards Act, Divorce Act, Lancaster House eText on Wrongful Dismissal and Employment Law.

  5. Most consulted court decision of all time: Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick 2008 SCC 9.

  6. Most consulted court decision in a single year: R. v. Duncan, 2013 ONCJ 160: 37,000 and counting since April 2013).

  7. In 2013, CanLII has averaged over 10,000 page views per month in combined referral traffic from Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and LinkedIn.

  8. In 2013, CanLII has averaged over 10,000 page views per month in combined referral traffic from Wikipedia and Wikibooks.

  9. CanLII has an API that lets you build apps and web services that incorporate CanLII collection and citation data.

  10. Sample tools built using this API include a site to find overlapping citation references among cases.

  11. It also has a browser plug-in that lets you save research data in a personal folder.

  12. CanLII also provides tools that let you launch a CanLII search of text found in any webpage and that will insert case and legislation hyperlinks directly into your own Word documents.

  13. CanLII is currently testing a major overhaul of its search interface and will retire the current version in late September.

  14. CanLII is part of the global “Free Access to Law Movement” but is unique among members in that its operational funding comes solely through the legal profession by way of their home law societies.

  15. CanLII is planning a second website for 2014 that will act as a social and public portal for sharing information about Canadian court decisions.

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Tweet of the day

By Yves Faguy July 30, 2013 30 July 2013

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It's the model that's dying, not Big Law per se

By Yves Faguy July 29, 2013 29 July 2013

Responding to pushback from critics of his article, The Last Days of Big Law, Noam Scheiber qualifies his point that only 10 percent of today’s major firms will survive the coming decade:

The point is not that, of the top 250 firms in the country, only 25 will survive the next decade, period. It’s that only 25 will be doing roughly what they do today—using the same business model, charging roughly the same hourly rates (or more), with roughly the same proportion of partners to associates to clients. Some of the other firms will certainly go kaput. But most will probably adapt in some way. It just won’t be a way that really warms the hearts of the lawyers who currently work there. Indeed, the firm that I used as a case study in my piece—the Chicago-based Mayer Brown—is, like many of its competitors, already experimenting with ways to become more efficient. I’m not sure its lawyers love the upshot of these experiments, even if they concede that they’re necessary. Long story short: The model is dying even if most of the firms survive in some form.

He also doubles down on his central argument, that legal spend is down, and that it isn't bouncing back any time soon:

Similarly, corporations now have more alternatives to hiring law firms than ever before—like contract attorneys and the “legal process outsourcers” who procure them—and they’re using them increasingly often. Between 2004 and 2010, according to data collected by Bill Henderson of Indiana University, law firm employment dropped by 4 percent, or about 47,000 jobs. During the same period, employment in “all other legal services” (like outsourcers) increased by 50%, or about 8,000 jobs. Obviously, some of that change was driven by the pinch of the recession. But it’s hard to imagine clients reversing these trends as the economy recovers. Recent history suggests that outsourced jobs tend to stay outsourced, whatever the original reason for the move.

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Law school tuition: a massive market failure

By Yves Faguy July 23, 2013 23 July 2013

Though tuition fees have risen sharply -- albeit unevenly -- over the years at many Canadian law schools, no one is suggesting that these hikes are in any way in the same league as those in the U.S. Even so, when average law school debt in Canada is approaching $60,000, as some are estimating, it's worth considering what the impact is on the career decisions young lawyers make after law school and how that, in turn, impacts access to justice. Omar Ha Redeye wrote a post about this back in March:

The key point here is that young lawyers are often compelled to work in high-earning positions in order to recover losses from tuition and lost opportunities. Understandably, high earning positions in law typically involve serving high earning clients. The costs of legal education are therefore part of the costs of legal services which are indirectly passed on to the general public, who still find legal services largely unaffordable.

Paul Campos picks up on the same theme in a really interesting discussion about how to fix law schools in the U.S., that was published as an accompanying piece to Noam Scheiber's cover story in the New Republic:

In real, inflation-adjusted terms, tuition at private American law schools has doubled over the past 20 years, tripled over the past 30, and quadrupled over the past 40. The rate of increase for resident tuition at public law schools has been even steeper.

The result of this trend is that students enrolling in law school this fall will graduate with an average of around $200,000 in educational debt. This debt will carry an interest rate of about 7.5 percent, which means that typical law graduates will start their legal careers, assuming they have such careers—nearly half of 2012 graduating class did not get jobs requiring law degrees—with an obligation to pay $15,000 per year in interest alone on their debt.

(More after the jump)

Charging tuition that ensures new lawyers are in serious debt is a sure-fire way to erode access to justice. - See more at:

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