A number of discussions arose at a meeting with colleagues today on the future of law firm legal researchers given changes in technology. It was hard enough twenty years ago (when I was still typing my law school papers) to imagine the impact of the Internet, the scope of online law-related information and other technologies that support legal research (e-mail, laser printing, scanning, etc.) [although twenty years ago I did have a Commodore computer that used a cassette tape deck as its memory - you had to fast forward the tape to get to different spots on the memory!.] Could it be that twenty years from now there will be automated bots that will retrieve relevant information, analyze the information for relevancy and prepare a draft research memo? Will will be able to simply speak to our computer saying "I need info on the grounds by which Ontario courts will order security for costs against a non-resident plaintiff" and the computer will provide the info? This technology does not seem that far off . . . .
In addition, we are increasingly seeing the digitization of law-related materials that were traditionally print-based, including law journals (HeinOnline), some textbooks (on Quicklaw, on WestlaweCARSWELL, on Canada Law Book, etc.), encyclopedias (the CED's on WestlaweCARSWELL and Halsbury's Online) and case law. Services like LLMC Digital are also digitzing older, historical Canadian material – see their list of Canadian titles being digitized.
Most colleagues felt, though, that the value that legal researchers provide through their insights, experience and analysis cannot be replaced by technology and that there still is a role for legal researchers to play in the future.
A few themes of our discussion were focused on the following issues:
For additional materials, see:
Mark Gannage, "The Roles of Research Lawyers in Private Practice in Canada" (2001) 24 Advocates' Q. 202.
Stephen A. Thiele, "The Costs of Legal Research: Changing Attitudes in the Profession" (2004) 29 Advocates' Q. 324.