My next door neighbour at Heenan Blaikie, Ryan Teschner lent me this morning a history of the Queen’s Law School at 50 – “Let Right Be Done”:
A History of the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University by Professor Mark D. Walters
I was very pleased to see 3 pages about the early days of computerized legal research in Common Law Canada, which all started at Kingston
The Genesis of Quicklaw
In October 1972, it was reported that a sense of manic chaos reigned in the house at 140 Beverly Street, just one block from the Queen’s campus: “anxious-looking individuals” paraded through the house and everywhere were machines producing “nothing but paper — paper that overflows filing cabinets, crawls out of cardboard boxes, submerges work desks and creeps across floor space.”
Lawford’s interest in developing searchable computer databases for legal materials developed in the mid-1960s, and by September 1968, he had entered into discussions with I.B.M. to establish a project of “considerable proportions.”
QUIC/LAW — the acronym for Queen’s University Institute for Computing and Law — showed some early signs of success, but the issue of continued university funding soon became controversial. Lawford argued that if Queen’s did not continue to support the project, a purely commercial entity would develop the technology, and equitable access to it might be threatened.
One year later, the system was ready for a trial run. It was the computer serviceman making the final installation of the equipment who put the first question to the new system: “[W]asn’t there a case where a cow was struck by a car driving up a hilly, winding road?”
Lawford doubted whether his system could produce the answer on the basis of such limited information, but he typed in the question anyway. Within fifteen seconds he had the answer: Fleming v. Atkinson, a case decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1959
In 1979 the new technology was made available to students at Queen’s: a computer terminal was placed in the library to permit access to the QL database
Associate Dean and Chief Law Librarian Denis Marshall explained in 1992: “University mainframe computers throughout North America are linked together by a series of regional communications networks known collectively as the Internet” — a reminder of just how quickly things have evolved
The QL system was original and hugely successful. Eventually Lawford sold the rights to the concept to the massive West Publishing Company in the United States, and it was used in the development of the “Westlaw” legal database. QL Systems was re-incorporated as Quicklaw Inc. in 1999 and merged with LexisNexis Butterworths Canada in 2002, with Lawford continuing as C.E.O. until 2004
In recognition of his contributions to Canadian legal publishing, the Canadian Association of Law Libraries awards the Hugh Lawford Award for Excellence in Legal Publishing each year.
Homenaje a Hugh