How Many Online Sources Do You Need?

Four – or so it seems.

CanLII’s summer 2012 survey of Canadian lawyers and Quebec notaries (discussed here) drew over 4,300 responses*, allowing us to extract insights into matters of general interest.

As shown below in a survey screenshot of Question 10, we asked about online sources used to conduct legal research.

[Click on image to enlarge]

In addition to the eight options offered, respondents added many, many more to the list, but in the end less than a third of respondents reported using more than four online sources in the past 12 months.

The results also showed us that the more experience you have as a lawyer/notary, the more likely you are to pick a handful of favourite sources and stick with them rather than use as many as are available. But as the results below demonstrate, even among more juniour lawyers/notaries, very few use six or more sources. Of course, had the survey question presented, for example, provincial court and legislative sites as different sources, the results may well have shown the apex at five or even six sources, but the distribution would likely be quite similar.

[Click on image to enlarge]


* Responses include results from each of Canada’s 14 law societies. Excluding British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and the Barreau du Quebec, response rates for each of the remaining 10 law societies were between 8% and 29% of its full membership. For the four largest law societies, a random sample of 3,000 members received a survey invitation and the balance had the opportunity to contact the survey firm to request a survey link. Response rates for those jurisdictions measured against the sample, but including the volunteer participants, ranged from 11% to 28%.

** for each “years at the bar” cohort, the number of respondents ranged between 578 and 934.


  1. Colin, recognizing that it was a CanLII survey, did anyone mention under other?

  2. Hi Lloyd.

    703 respondents took the time to list one or more sites, identifying sources like specialized tax, labour and criminal law resources. Digest services featured prominently, as did mentions of publishers like Irwin, Maritime, CCH and Lancaster.

    Many identified sources falling into the original 8 categories (e.g., particular court websites), several dozen identified various foreign sources, lots of discussion of services provided by their law societies and many pointed to “reading rooms” available through firms, universities and place like BC Courthouse Libraries as the portal through which they access journals, periodicals and specialized resources.

    While not expressly mentioning or any other blog or truly independent sites, many referred generally to blogs, independent websites, and online dictionaries. I suspect it is among those groupings that we would find your visitors.


  3. Thanks for sharing these results from the CanLII survey, Colin. I’m glad you added the followup comment highlighting the write-in votes, as it struck me that the survey question, by listing only eight online sources, narrowed the field dramatically from the long list of tools lawyers are now using. The question feels somewhat like asking, a generation ago, which of these eight leading textbooks are you using for your legal information needs, and then concluding from the results that most lawyers are using four books.

    Admittedly, the analogy is a stretch given the comprehensiveness of several of the tools listed in the survey. But what we’re seeing at the Courthouse Libraries BC is that lawyers are using an increasingly wide array of digital tools for different purposes – CLE Online for their online practice manuals, HeinOnline for law journals, Irwin Law eLibrary for online texts, Criminal Spectrum for criminal law texts. The list goes on, particularly for secondary materials where there aren’t two or three dominant digital sources the way there are with cases and legislation.

    Thanks, by the way, for the shoutout for our Lawyers Reading Room, where we’re providing desktop access to BC lawyers to some of these specialty tools: HeinOnline, Irwin Law eLibrary, and (coming in December) Rangefindr, a sentencing database.

  4. Hi Drew,

    Thanks for the comments. You are absolutely correct in noting that survey design and options presented had a definite impact on the results. As you can appreciate, given CanLII’s interest in understanding lawyer/notary use and preference of our site relative to other sites offering primary legal information, we chose to present sources most likely to be known to the largest number of survey respondents. But even here, it would have been interesting to see how, for example, the B.C. results would have changed had we listed other commercial primary law sites like QP Legaleze or Quickscribe; or, from a national perspective, had we listed Maritime Law Book. These and other sources were identified in the “other” responses.

    Regarding usage of secondary sources like Irwin and Hein, or of specialized tools like Rangefindr, I think it would be interesting to poll lawyer usage of those sources distinct from usage of primary law services to get a true picture of how many services are used by most lawyers. Based on nothing but wild speculation on my part, I suspect we would see a similar curve whereby the majority use a small number of services specific to their practice and a smaller number visit a broader spectrum of sites.