Readers of this column over the past year or so will know that I’m rather preoccupied with the quality of legal material. When I compare free to paid legal resources, I often find the free resources wanting, usually because I don’t believe that enough checks and controls are used when the material is created.
We are proud of the work we’ve done here at CLEBC to create authoritative practice manuals for BC lawyers. But how does that material become authoritative; that is, what do we actually do to ensure that BC lawyers can confidently rely on these resources in their daily practice?
The basis of CLEBC operations is the voluntary contributions of our authors, editorial boards, and course presenters. We receive outstanding material from our volunteers. I’ve worked with hundreds of wonderful BC lawyers who are committed to sharing their knowledge and raising the standard of practice. But how do we turn that material into a practice manual on which the whole profession can rely?
Our first step when planning a new publication is to investigate what’s needed. Where are insurance claims arising? What do senior lawyers see as the information gaps? Are there any good resources already published?
Once we’ve determined that a gap needs to be filled, we gather a group of leading practitioners from that practice area. This group provides us with valuable information about where the needs are greatest. They often work with us until the manual is completed; they serve as our editorial board.
We do a lot of investigation to figure out who will be the best authors. Our editorial boards are good sources of information; we also draw on our institutional knowledge to find leading practitioners who could write for us.
As in all publishing houses, our authors and editors work together. We take the contributions of our authors and work with them to make the final product the very best it can be. Once we receive material from the authors, the editorial process begins. The first step is to have the legal editor review and edit the manuscript.
The legal editors (all of whom are lawyers) take responsibility for the accuracy of the content provided to us. They read with a very careful eye, considering always: Does this make sense? Is it accurate and does it align with his or her understanding of the law? Have we covered every topic? Have we discussed every relevant case? Would this discussion make sense to a brand-new lawyer? Has every concept been explained fully? Is anything missing? (Of course, not all issues arise in every submission!)
For a multi-author book, we often find that our authors have different writing styles. They may also treat the subject differently, either by emphasizing the details of practice, deep discussion of the case law, or some other approach. We work with the authors to even out their treatment of the topics and do our best to ensure a smooth transition between the different styles.
The editorial board review process is the next quality control step. Our group of senior practitioners in the area will review every page of the book. This most often takes place over a series of meetings. I cannot overstate the importance of this process!
I’ve enjoyed many of these meetings over the years. I have seen with my own eyes the care that the editorial board takes to ensure the accuracy of the statements in our manuals. They bring an experienced and practical perspective to the topic at hand. This process can take some time; our BC Company Law Practice Manual was reviewed at weekly meetings over many months.
Thrashing out controversial issues at an editorial board meeting also ensures that all sides of an action or transaction are represented: for example, in motor vehicle accidents cases, plaintiff’s counsel and defence counsel often have very different views.
We often include the judiciary on our editorial boards; they bring another valuable perspective to the review. Our civil litigation resources have especially benefitted from the judicial perspective. Participating on our boards is also a good way for the judiciary to let the profession know what they’d like to see in court (for instance, the correct way to introduce certain types of evidence.)
Once the authors, legal editor, and editorial board have signed off the content of the manual, we start another round of quality control. We put the book manuscript into the hands of our copy editors. In our shop, we ask the copy editors to check grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They read all the material carefully and point out any part of the manuscript that should be clarified. They also check the page layout, the headers and footers, the headings, the tables of contents, and cross-references. They confirm all the case and statute citations and prepare the case, statute, and reference tables.
Once this work is complete, and has been reviewed by the legal editor, our production staff takes over to create the final print and online publication.
Is all this effort worth it? As I’ve said before, sometimes “good enough” really is good enough. But when time is at a premium or the stakes are high (and I believe this describes most lawyer’s work), then it is critical to have an authoritative source. Happily, BC lawyers also seem to take this view of our offerings.