The development of computers changed and enhanced the searching of caselaw.
In 1971 a study of the application of computers to legal research was undertaken by the Federal Department of Justice and the Canadian Bar Association. The study was completed in April 1972 and the opening paragraphs of the report were as follows:
This study referred to as ‘Operation Compulex’was undertaken at the initiative of the Federal Department of Justice and the Canadian Bar Association. The Bureau of Management Consulting of the Federal Government was engaged to carry out the inquiry which began in June of 1971 and terminated in April 1972.
What was the reason for this inquiry? Both the Department of Justice and the Canadian Bar Association were interested in investigating whether technological developments in the information field might be of assistance to the practicing lawyer. The purpose of the inquiry then, was to determine if the practicing lawyer is experiencing difficulties with his current manual approach to dealing with information and if so, how developments in information technology might be of assistance to him.
The report comprised 54 pages plus 34 pages of appendices.
At page 30 the report states that legal research “is necessary for only some 20% of all matters referred to lawyers”
At page 17 the report stated “Indexing was the most frequent complaint by lawyers …. . Invariably when a complaint was lodged the lawyer would recommend the West Key system in the same breath.” The lawyers also wanted comprehensive cross referencing.
As a result of the recommendations in the Operation Compulex report, our firm, Maritime Law Book, commenced a key number system for its caselaw reporters similar to the West Key Number System.
This is where I start to sound like a shill.
The MLB system includes over 150 topics, beginning with Actions and ending with Workers’Compensation. All points in a case are assigned a topic name and a number. For example, Practice 651 is reserved for points in cases that describe the circumstances when a plaintiff may be added in a civil action.
In a system with over 150 topics, a sub-topic or a title may be situated in a place in the hierarchy that the searcher does not expect. For example, the title Unjust Enrichment is found in several topics. This problem is now addressed both in print and digitally on our web site. In print, MLB publishes the Master Key Word Index which provides cross-references to all titles, topics and subtopics. On the MLB web site a searcher can search the content of all 150 topics by using words such as “unjust enrichment” which results in a list of the titles or topics where “unjust enrichment” is found.
Any case, particularly an appeal case, may contain several different points of law. In addition, the MLB editors are trained to pick up and describe points in four areas that may arise in any type of case. The four areas are, professional conduct, practice, evidence and statutory interpretation.
MLB editors have created over 30,000 key numbers and as the law evolves new numbers are added.
Is there a better system for the search and retrieval of Canadian caselaw?