A Century of Slaw Postings – or What I Learned at the Monde du Blog

This is my hundredth Slaw posting and rather than post on legal information, research and the Technologies of access and knowledge analysis, I’d like to think about slaw as a community of knowledge and where we’ve come from since those trans-mondial postings about taxonomies of legal knowledge back in June en route to India.

Funnily enough what strike me this morning are not so much the innovations or the extraordinary Technologies of web-enabled collaborations, as much as the continuities.

We have in some sense been here before, but with tools of community that were less sustainable and more enclosed.

First precursor was CLIC which has been referred to a few times on SLAW, the Canadian Law Information Council. Gordon Henderson’s extraordinary vision in his year as President of the Canadian Bar Association. CLIC brought together lawyers, law teachers, librarians, legal publishers, government lawyers, and early legal technologists to work through the issues of how Canada could build a robust set of legal information structures collaboratively. The full story of CLIC and its frustrations and achievements remains to be writtenSome of the work on public access to the law is described by Tom McMahon . But in Slaw I continue conversations I began at CLIC.

Second continuity was a venture announced at TechShow (I think in ’89) which was a connected email backbone just for lawyers, on DIALCOM, called ABAnet. There aren’t that many references to it, since it was mutating by the time of the ’91 EFF colloquium But it pioneered list-servs and moderated discussion forums which sputtered, but were intermittently interesting. By 1989, there must have been less than a dozen non-academic lawyers in Canada, using email daily and participating in UNIX-based flat conversations. But it was a start. And the name ABAnet continues today.

When Simon F referred last week to lawyer collaboration cross-firm, and the possibility of legal community, I smiled and thought back to Counsel Connect, an extraordinary visionary venture announced on March 26, 1993 at TechShow that year – it sprang from the fertile mind of David JohnsonDavid’s experience at Counsel Connect led to famous articles like his major opus with David Post on Law and Borders – the Rise of Law in Cyberspace and the generous cheque book of Steven Brill of American Lawyer. Described by Barry Bayer as follows: Counsel Connect was originally accessed through a private dial-up telephone network, at about 9600 bps, with proprietary software running on MS-DOS. Before Internet Access was a given, and before Windows. It never made any money, but the concept was visionary and the technology, however kludgy, was far ahead of its time. Again the history of this venture remains to be writtenThere are a few helpful references to how it actually workedand look at Anne Branscomb.

What was extraordinary about Counsel Connect was that you could have an almost real-time discussion on substantive legal topics with experts from around the continent (and a few techies in Australia). We actually got some legal work from it. Folks were generous with time and information. And a real communityWe actually gathered at Schmidt’s Bar in Chicago during TechShow ’96, and blinked at the recognition of our online chums, whom we had never met before was formed.

These are still early days for Slaw – much has changed since CLIC, ABAnet and Counsel Connect, but the need for dialogue endures.


  1. Simon: What a pleasure to connect with you here at Slaw! To this day I miss Counsel Connect. The Internet and e-commerce were in their infancy, but we as a community of professionals knew they represented something really big. CC enabled us to debate, in an intoxicating new way, what the future would hold. –Ben