By Ken Fox
From time to time at the library we get requests for “unreported” decisions. What do folks mean by unreported?
These days, you usually mean that a case is difficult to find, that it is not available on CanLII for instance. This is very reasonable – you take a phrase you have heard, and apply it to a situation in a way that makes sense.
Traditionally, unreported means something different with respect to case law. The court issues written reasons for its judgments, and legally-trained editors working for private publishing companies select cases for printing based on their importance, uniqueness, and court level. Cases printed in law reports (i.e., “reported”) were not only more accessible than unreported cases (i.e., those not selected for inclusion in a law report), but more authoritative, with some courts only allowing reported cases to be cited.
So (you ask) in the past, private publishers decided which cases were important, and thereby played a significant role in the creation of the common law? Yes they did, and to a certain extent they still do.
Unreported decisions existed only in copies issued from the courts, and photocopies of them were generally collected in court house libraries. At the Law Society Library in both Regina and Saskatoon we still have collections of unreported Saskatchewan judgments going back to the 1960s.
But technology changes things. In the traditional sense of “unreported,” CanLII hosts hundreds of such cases. For example, look at the citation info in this one – there is a neutral cite, but no reference to Saskatchewan Reports (Sask R), Western Weekly Reports (WWR), or any other print law report. The case is unreported, but easily accessible.
In 2014, Susannah Tredwell speculated that online publishing of case law has created a new kind of unreported decision: “those judgments that the courts do not make easily available.” This type includes oral judgments, and any other judicial decision for which no written reasons are released.
I don’t know the exact name of this phenomenon – semantic drift? – but it seems to me the meaning of “unreported” is changing. The publishing companies have little or no say in what cases are available – that power is now the courts’ alone.
In addition to changing the availability of case law, the existence of comprehensive, free sources such as CanLII, CommonLII, WorldLII and Google has eroded the authority of the print reporting system. As far back as 2005, Nick Pengelley mused that there might no longer be an authoritative distinction between reported and unreported case law. In 2009, Ted Tjaden suggested that Canadian courts, contra England, may adopt a more flexible, discretionary approach to what judgments can and should be cited in court.
So (you ask), this is the end of the centuries-old law reporting system? Really? Well, it’s not for me to say, but – yes.
How do you access unreported decisions?
In Saskatchewan, everything for which there are written reasons from 2000 forward is on CanLII. If you are looking for one of those “unreported” decisions in the newer sense of the term, you might need to contact a court registry office or one of the lawyers involved in the case. The Saskatchewan courts provide instructions on how to access court records.
From before 2000, practically all reported (in the old sense) Saskatchewan cases are now on CanLII. For unreported cases, try a subscription service such as WestlawNext or Quicklaw. Failing that, contact us, and we’ll do our best. If it’s from the 1960s or later, we might have it in a filing cabinet.
On the question of terminology – well, for me “reported” still means the case includes a citation to a printed law report. Call me Old School if you like, I won’t mind. And if you are one of those folks who call any difficult-to-find case “unreported” – then (1) I won’t correct you, and (2) I may someday join you – because one thing I’ve learned is that history’s greatest fools are the ones who try to stand in the way of change, and I just don’t want to be that guy.
Did you catch Andrew Arruda’s TED Talk? TED Talks brings together diverse speakers to discuss exciting and emerging issues in the world today.
Arruda (JD’14) is a recent University of Saskatchewan College of Law graduate. In his talk, Arruda speaks about the potential of an artificially intelligent (AI) lawyer to democratize the law, reduce legal costs, and to make the practice of law cheaper for all. To accomplish this goal, Arruda worked with a computer scientist to create ROSS, the world’s first AI lawyer. I encourage you to watch the video yourself.
The primary argument Arruda makes is that an AI lawyer can help reduce legal research time and consequently lower the fees incurred as a result of legal research. Time spent on legal research, Arruda explains, is the biggest barrier to hiring a lawyer. Lawyers spend twenty or thirty hours on legal research and spend hundreds of dollars each month to access legal databases. ROSS will allow lawyers to get away from legal research.
While I am skeptical an AI lawyer can actually do what Arruda claims, the idea is intriguing. At the Law Society Library, we are continually on the lookout for the latest legal resource technology for our members. Our goal at the Law Society Library is to provide members with the newest digital resources anywhere in the province. Today you can access WestlawNext through the Members’ Section right on your computer’s desktop. Tomorrow, will you be able to access an AI lawyer?
By Ken Fox
Yes, the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library has created TWO MORE Subject Research Guides: Banking Law and Bankruptcy and Insolvency Law – both can be accessed, along with other subjects, at our Research Resources page.
Subject guides available at Research Resources now include:
- Aboriginal Law
- Banking Law
- Bankruptcy and Insolvency LawCivil Procedure
- Civil Procedure
- Criminal Law
- Family Law
- Tort Law
- Trusts, Wills and Estates Law
By Brenda Wong
The librarian in a law firm setting is part of a profit-making business, which inevitably leads to a different type of role than a librarian in a university or public library. One of the main differences is that they have an ongoing relationship with their clients. Often librarians will attend practice group meetings to keep abreast of what files the lawyers are working on. They are highly specialized professionals, involved in research, library administration, and collaborating with other departments. This article will primarily deal with research.
Most legal reference questions are complex, and even the basic ones require some subject knowledge. A basic question could involve retrieving a list of cases for a brief of authorities. Frequently the questions are more complex:
I remember a recent case in Alberta involving a homeowner who sued a golf course over golf balls that landed in their property. Can you get it for me?
The librarian must parse the question, frequently asking for more details. It also helps to know that every lawyer is very subjective when it comes to the term “recent.” Complex reference questions can mean many hours of labour or pulling in other staff to assist. Legal research is satisfying and intensive work as there is often a time crunch. It is not for the faint of heart. Research is often the most visible responsibility of a law librarian.
Another, more invisible, role the law librarian plays involves collection development, or ensuring the library maintains current information to meet the practice areas of the law firm. Sometimes collection development also means canceling looseleaf services, if the same information is now delivered electronically. Librarians keep tabs on emerging fields of law and emerging authors adding to the print collection. Often librarians need to make some hard decisions about their budget so costs are manageable. They also undergo continuous training in order to be effective researchers using the latest features of commercial databases, like WestlawNext Canada or Quicklaw.
An overlooked aspect of having a law librarian on staff is that their effective research skills save the firm money. In private practice wasted time is a waste of resources and money. For example, the commercial database searches are the opposite of Google in certain ways. They work best with focused or Boolean searching, so plunking keywords into WestlawNext is a case of garbage in and garbage out. Not only is it an ineffective practice, but unnecessary searches can have other ramifications, such as driving up the cost of such databases. Librarians aim to train lawyers so they firstly reframe reference questions to find background information in textbooks before searching on commercial databases.
The advent of CanLII has been a tremendous boost to online research, but it does not have specialized tools like encyclopedias or newsletters providing context to the case law. It is hoped over time there will be more innovations from CanLII leading to even more secondary sources.
Some research will likely be handed over to the librarian as it may be time-intensive and very specialized legal research. Historical legislative research tracing back how an act has changed is fascinating and complex. It involves a deep dive into annual statutes and consolidations, laying out the print volumes to see how they relate to each other.
Although this article has explored the research process, the law librarian is also involved in administration like budgeting and contract negotiations of databases, as well as collaborating with other departments. Collaboration can look like implementing a memos database with IT or developing competitive intelligence projects with marketing. Librarian Shaunna Mireau of Field Law in Edmonton, for example, is involved in overseeing firm-wide knowledge management projects so information is shared and used effectively.
The law librarian plays an integral role in research at a private firm. The information will feed into an opinion letter to a client or legal memo. Librarians save the firm time and money with their honed research skills, freeing up lawyers to complete other tasks. “We support our users by giving them the answer, not teaching them how to get the answer – most of the time,” said librarian Karen Sawatzky of Tapper Cuddy in Winnipeg.
Some of the research time may be billed to clients, too. In firms in which the librarians bill their time, they can be directly contributing to work product as well as generating revenue. Librarians billing their time, however, is another topic to be explored.
Many law librarians will say that research is their favourite part of their day as it is never boring and always challenging. Librarians strive to do research using both print and electronic resources while also training lawyers to improve their skills. After working in different types of libraries, I must say that legal research is rewarding and fascinating because it has real life implications.
Demers, A., ed, Legal Information Specialists: A Guide to Launching and Building Your Career, (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2012).
Lambert, G., “In the the age of Google, law librarians manage your time, people and money” (January 12, 2016), 3 Geeks and a Law blog, online: http://www.geeklawblog.com/2016/01/in-age-of-google-law-librarians-manage.html.
Brenda Wong has been a law librarian, library technician and library consultant in firms from Toronto to Vancouver and a few places in between. She believes strongly in the positive contributions librarians can make in law firms and the legal profession in general. Through her varied experiences, she has seen how law libraries have evolved in the last decade, and she understands that the common thread is to create knowledge through the connection of information and technology.
By Ken Fox
WestlawNext has powerful searching capabilities, but it is not always obvious how to perform some of the more basic functions – for example, searching for case law by common fields such as citation, case name, judge, etc.
First, access the site. If you are a Law Society of Saskatchewan member, and using our province-wide subscription, please access WLN through the link on the Members Section.
From the WLN homepage, click on the Cases and Decisions link – it is the first item under “Primary Sources.”
This link will take you to a page that allows you to narrow a search by Jurisdiction or Topic – for most uses of the database, I would recommend bypassing this page, and going directly to the “ADVANCED” search, by using the link at the far right of the Search bar:
The Advanced Search page provides notes about Connectors and Expanders, as well as various “advanced” searching fields in a grey-shaded area. If you scroll down the screen to the “Document Fields” – you will see many of the basic fields one is accustomed to using to find case law.
For further searching advice, contact the library.
By Ivan Mokanov, Executive Director
It sounds like a silly question, right? First you wanted to know something, you transformed that question into a research statement; you were looking for something, you found it, you have your answer, you act accordingly, period, you move on to your next task. Not really, actually, at least in the sphere of professional research, such as legal research. After you discover your legal gem, a whole new process unfolds: you preserve your finding (print, store, save), you link it to the specific portion of your practice to which it is relevant (you put the print-out in a client/matter folder), you add your personal layer of knowledge on top (you scribble something in the margin), you update your research (before you meet your client again or before taking the matter to court). With all this in mind we developed Lexbox – to help you manage better your legal research results.
What does Lexbox do?
A few simple things – it enables you to save your legal finds, organize them, take notes, get alerts. Lexbox allows you to save cases, legislation, web pages or research statements as such. You can store the saved items in folders, e.g. Air Canada / Collective Agreement 2015-2018. You can generate lists of authorities from your folders’ content. You can also take notes to contextualize the saved results in order to explain or remember why they are relevant to your case. You can consult your research history. Finally, you can set up alerts to get notifications. You want to know if a new result meets your search criteria? Or when a new case cites the case that you saved? Or when the regulation that applies to this matter gets amended? That kind of stuff.
But other services also provide this functionality – how is this so innovative and blog-worthy?
The problem of managing search results is not new and many legal research tools offer capabilities to help you cope with that. WestlawNext has a neat way of allowing you to set up alerts, FastCase enables you to organize your documents in folders, Google Scholar offers what they call a “library”, which is pretty much the same thing: a sandbox for a selection of your results. Most products have their own feature and all of them boil down to the same thing – allowing you to personalize your research experience.
How is Lexbox different?
Of course we are proud with the UI and features, but we believe that the truly innovative part lies in Lexbox’s concept and approach. Two things are worth mentioning.
Lexbox is not a single website’s feature – it has been designed to works on many websites. When it comes to supported websites, at least initially, our focus has been on free law since this is where the predominant part of legal research happens these days. Naturally, we started with CanLII. First, because it is the “elephant in the room” – the largest and, to my unbiased* opinion, the best legal research website in Canada. Second, and more important actually, because of its accessibility through APIs which makes a developer’s work easier. Lexbox also supports Lexum’s SCC decisions website. Next (in a couple of weeks) in the pipeline are the Federal Courts’ and the Tax Court’s decisions websites, e-Laws, BCLaws and the Federal Legislation website. After (in a month or so) we will add two other heavyweights from the legal research arena: Québec’s CAIJ and LegisInfo. And then maybe a commercial service, who knows…
The technical approach
We chose to deliver Lexbox’s cross-platform functionality through a plug-in, or an “extension” (to use the precise Google Chrome vocabulary) that can be installed in one click. The main design premise was for Lexbox to be always there, yet not stand in the way of your legal research process. The extension allows you to work with Lexbox without having to leave your environment – CanLII, SCC, e-Laws – wherever your process may have lead you. Lexbox offers you a web workspace where your stuff sits but every functionality is also available through the extension – saving, creating folders, browsing, retrieving past queries, setting alters – therefore it is always one click away.
So, Lexbox is there, it is free and we are excited to learn what you think about it and how we can make it even better.
(Ivan Mokanov is Executive Director of Lexum, a technology and service provider for the CanLII website)
By Alan Kilpatrick
Having trouble with your legal research and looking for some help? Would you like to identify the best resource or ebook for a particular area of the law? Do you need training on the latest database like WestlawNext? Or, are you suffering information overload from the sheer number of legal resources out there?
If you are experiencing any of this, hit this button right now!
The Law Society of Saskatchewan Library is pleased to provide members with a full range of legal research services. Law librarians possess a unique knowledge of legal resources and highly specialized skills to search those resources effectively and expertly. We can work with you to develop research strategies, identify the ideal resources for you research, and add value to your legal research.
Ken Fox and Alan Kilpatrick are Reference Librarians with the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library. Ken is located in Saskatoon at the College of Law library during the temporary closure of the Law Society’s Saskatoon Library due to court house renovation. Alan is located in our Regina branch in the court house on Victoria Avenue.
Please contact us at email@example.com or 306-569-8020 if you require any research assistance.
University of Saskatchewan
8 Law Building, 15 Campus Drive
Saskatoon, SK S7N 5A6
Law Society of Saskatchewan Library
2425 Victoria Avenue, 2nd Floor
Regina, SK S4P 4W6