A Humble Beginning: 32 Years of Saskatchewan Case Digesting (Throwback Thursday)

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TB19Jun_2
An acoustic coupler used in the 1983 movie WarGames

The year was 1982 , and …

Time Magazine‘s Man of the Year was the computer,
Commodore 64 was the most popular home computer,
Sony Walkman was the hot new gadget,
the first movie with extensive 3D CGI Tron was released by Disney,
and mobile phone… no, there was no mobile phone yet. The first consumer mobile phone didn’t come out until the following year and weighed almost 2 lbs. and measured about 12 inches tall and 3.5 inches thick.

And what cool tools did we have in Saskatchewan for legal research in 1982?

In the early ’80s there was generally a 6 to 12 month delay for Saskatchewan cases to be picked up by printed law reporters. QL Systems (Quicklaw) was the only online service available and was already popular in courthouses. Searching QL back then was over a phone line dialing into Canada’s packet switched network Datapac using a modem or an acoustic coupler with a data transfer rate of 1000 baud (approximately 10 million times slower than the download speed of a high speed Internet connection these days). Remember WarGames? Finding caselaw and getting cases to the lawyers in a timely manner was problematic and expensive.  There was a need to provide a local digesting service and This Week’s Law, commonly known as TWL, was the resulting product.

TB19JunTRS80III
A Radio Shack TRS-80 computer
TB19Jun_1
A page from TWL, 1986

The first issue of TWL was released in 1982. One copy was produced on a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer. Copies for distribution were made on a photocopier because all office printers back then were dot matrix.  They were slow, noisy, and they printed on fanfold paper.  TWL was offered as a looseleaf subscription service with approximately nine releases a year. Over the years the contents of TWL expanded and many features were added. In 1998, the contents of TWL were imported into a new database platform that made searching on the Internet possible. This became the Saskatchewan Cases database. Data structure, search screens and reports were carefully designed to maximize the searchability of the contents and to take full advantage of the hypertext linking ability of HTML.  In order to enable fulltext searching of the judgments, a separate Fulltext database was created and linked to the Cases database.  The databases were initially available only for Law Society members for a subscription fee.  At the end of 1999 the benchers decided to make the databases available to the members for free.  A subsequent decision opened up the databases to the public. Since the databases were made available on the Internet and members have become more comfortable with computers and online searching , the demand for the printed TWL began to dwindle.  In 2002, after completing the 20th Anniversary volume, the Library decided to discontinue TWL.

Saskatchewan was the first law society in Canada to initiate an Internet-based search service for judgments. Today, Saskatchewan Cases database is one of the most popular databases produced by the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library. It is being used over 3,500 times a month. From the database we produce Case Mail, a twice monthly electronic newsletter of case digests. We also provide our case digests to CanLII Connects. All these were started from a need to provide current case law for our members, a vision, and a few people quietly doing what needed to be done behind the scene to provide a great service.

UPDATE: A recent inventory indicates that the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library has contributed 18,639 case digests to CanLII Connects, making us one of the biggest contributors to the service.

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