I'm in a post-election frame of mind and so naturally my thoughts turn (with anticipatory wistfulness, if there is such a thing) to socialism. This should not surprise anyone. I've lived most of my life in a university, after all, one of the few remaining communal enterprises not driven by profit, so I'm bound to suffer from professional deformation. Working with Slaw, too, has got me speculating on the business, so to speak, of sharing the wealth, which starts as information and knowledge in this context. All of which leads me to wonder how lawyers might improve the state of the law, and, consequently, the state of all of us, by sharing a lot more than they do now.
From the point of view of a naif (I've lived most of my life in a university etc. etc.) I see all these firm-silos, each confronting the problem of researching the law, each resorting to the same sets of data with, one presumes, differing degrees of skill. At the same time, I see individuals in firms talking to each other and sharing some tid-bits of general information relevant to researches. And I wonder: would it not make more sense for firms to share a great deal more?
In a way, the big legal database firms have taken care of some aspects of the matter, in that they provide two great libraries that everyone shares. This has aspects to it of the consolidation that might be helpful to greater sharing, but is, of course, dangerously oligopolistic in this case. But CanLII does something similar as a result of socialistic cooperation among law societies. As well, government sites now provide accurate or reasonably accurate (soon to be authoritative?) databases of legislation. We should continue along these lines, in my view, and bring "together" primary and secondary legal resources, making them available to all as efficiently as possible. This is access to justice in its most basic form, a promulgation project that was started with Hammurabi (at least) and has been uncompleted ever since.
Technically, at least, there's a real possibility for creating a National Law Library for Canada, in which all material is made available in digital form. Yes, budgetary matters stand in the way, as do local control issues. But I think there will be ways to overcome these and ultimately result in an overall saving through lack of duplication and local specialization.
But consolidating these resources is only part of what might be done, I speculate in this post-election fugue state of mine. How about sharing firm research products? [...steps discreetly away to permit the groans and expostulations to die down...] Yes, I understand that it's hard enough to get a lawyer to share a research product with other lawyers in the same firm: this is my ideal contract, my amazing summary of the law on widgetry, my perfect argument for driving a hole through the Great Wall Act; and if they remain solely at my beck and call, I'll prosper (more than you will).
Worse — and the crazy part of the notion of greater sharing — is that a research product is typically shaped by a client's need and, thus, betrays if not the client's strategy then at least the client's state and perhaps identity. This confidentiality obligation in itself needn't proscribe sharing: physicians present cases to each other all the time. It's how medicine advances. No, it's the adversarial process that blocks the way; someone else is poised to leap on the least lever and seek advantage. It's how law advances.
Yet, and yet… might not some clients give permission after all the fuss has died down for a "redacted" sharing of researches produced by the firm? And might not this sharing benefit most of us without actually depriving either clients of their rights or dignity, or practitioners of their due?
A lot of research product is out there in the "free" world anyhow. Think of memoranda and briefs filed during litigation. Does anyone collect these and catalogue them? They might indeed prove useful if properly arranged and placed where others could easily read and comment on them.
Perhaps this sort of thing happens a lot more than I imagine. Or perhaps I'm wrong, and most everyone else's research is so bad that you wouldn't deign even to consider it for its sources. Let me know how it is. You usually do. It's how I advance.