“Recognized as an Authority”

When can it be said that a new print publication is in fact “recognized as an authority” by the Canadian legal research community?

This question came to mind when I asked a law librarian attending the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries if she had added Halsburys Laws of Canada to her law library collection. Her answer was that she would do so as soon as Halsburys was “recognized” by the legal research community and not before.

The ultimate form of recognition

Identifying the ultimate form of recognition as an authority is an easy task. It is clearly when a publication is cited in a judgment issued by the Supreme Court of Canada. Needless to say, that is not a frequent occurrence. Recognition is also gained when the publication is cited by judges of courts of appeal and superior courts.

What other forms of recognition exist in the legal community? Several that come to mind include: a nomination for the Walter Own Book Prize, a nomination for the Hugh Lawford Award for Excellence in Legal Publishing, favourable book reviews in legal journals, inclusion in legal research manuals such as MacEllven’s Legal Research Handbook or Bank’s Using a Law Library, and word of mouth. However, all of these forms of recognition take time to materialize.

The decision to publish is the first step in being recognized as an authority

In Canada, the initial assessment of the value of a manuscript and its suitability for publication is primarily in the hands of the commercial legal publishers. Each publisher generally operates through a publishing committee whose members assess both manuscripts and proposals for publications and decide which manuscripts to publish.

The decision to publish a specific title is based on the academic and professional credentials of the author as well as on the quality of the manuscript. Further assessments of a manuscript’s value occur after its delivery for publication when professional editors review the manuscript line by line and confirm the accuracy of the sources cited by the author.

Creating awareness is step two

Creating initial awareness of a new publication is the responsibility of the marketing department in a publishing house. That is generally done through a combination of direct advertising, in print and by e mail. Until recently, a direct mail piece announcing a new publication was sufficient for core purchasers of legal information to validate their decision to acquire the publication.

The advent of online services and the recent economic downturn have combined to make buyers of legal information more cautious. The need to devote a large portion of their budgets to subscriptions to looseleaf and online services has reduced the resources available to acquire new legal treatises and monographs. The decision to acquire an encyclopedia requires careful consideration. Hence the desire to make a good choice based on the known quality of a work and its acceptance in the legal community. The day when a simple recommendation by the publisher would suffice is no more.

Recognition for Halsburys Laws of Canada

Despite its old and respected name, Halsburys Laws of Canada is a major new publishing initiative in Canada. Halsburys was created to fill a void in the Canadian legal market for a current, authoritative, and comprehensive encyclopedia that systematically includes content from every Canadian legal jurisdiction.

Every thing possible was done to ensure its success. A strong editorial team was assigned to the project including David Keeshan as Editor in Chief and Shaun Johnson as Editorial Production Director. They were ably assisted by prize winning book designer, Peter Sibbald Brown, in creating a handsome and impressive publication that inspires confidence based on physical appearance alone. Launched in late 2007, Halsburys now consists of thirty bound volumes written by a stellar cast of some of Canada’s most distinguished academics and practitioners including Janet Walker, Allen Linden, John Swan, Kevin McGuiness, Alan Gold, Vern Krishna and many others too numerous to list.

The first review is finally in. Amy Kaufman of the Lederman Library at Queen’s University Law Library has risen to the occasion and has published “Halsburys Laws of Canada in Context” in the most recent issue of the Canadian Law Library Review. In her review, Ms. Kaufman compared Halsburys Laws of Canada with Halsburys Laws of England and Australia and with the C.E.D. On both counts, her assessment was positive:

“Halsburys Laws of Canada is a timely addition to the Halsburys series. Halsburys Laws of Canada has many of the useful attributes of other Halsburys sets while adding some new features that should be helpful to law students and lawyers alike….In Canada’s growing legal field, perhaps it is time not only for Canadian Law to develop a higher profile globally with its own Halsburys set, but its publication is also a boon to the domestic legal community by offering choice – and a second place to check information when one or other is no longer current in a particular area or simply for an alternative point of view”.

Halsburys is intended to play an essential role in legal research in Canada. When will it be possible to say that objective has been achieved? Based on the reputations of the authors who have contributed to the work, the standards of production, and the achievement of a critical mass of thirty volumes, recognition is inevitable and imminent. How long it will take to achieve the ultimate accolade of being cited in court is in the only unknown.

N.B. Gary P. Rodrigues was the publisher at LexisNexis when the Halsburys Laws of Canada project was initiated.

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Comments

  1. In response to Mr. Rodrigues’s claim that “the physical appearance alone inspires confidence”. As the saying goes, “you should never judge a book by its cover”