B.C. is the home of innovation when it comes to law in this country, moving ahead with new ideas and new ways of providing its citizens with access to justice. We’ve talked about the foray into online dispute resolution and about the Ministry of Justice two-part White Paper on Justice Reform, to mention only two developments. And just yesterday Chief Justice Robert Bauman made a public statement predicting dire things for law and lawyers if significant changes aren’t made and made quickly, something rare for a sitting judge.
As significant is a quiet development we’ve not yet noticed on Slaw. Clicklaw, that impressive online effort at improving access to justice, has been developing Clicklaw Wikibooks, “collaboratively developed, plain language legal publications that are born-wiki and can also be printed.”
To me, what’s most exciting — and impressive — about these books is their collaborative origin: the site’s page for Contributors’ Bios lists 26 names. It’s long been clear to me that much can be accomplished in law by intelligent crowd sourcing (meaning that both ways, I guess: intelligence on the part of the sourcer and an intelligent crowd). We see this happening, out of necessity perhaps, in areas of poverty law and, indeed, now in areas affecting more and more the middle class, where the costs of access to justice have climbed out of citizens’ reach. This is, of course, well and good. But though it isn’t necessary in the same way in corporate and commercial practices because the money’s still there, freer collaboration across firms and practices could produce even greater efficiencies and cost savings for society than are now achieved via organizations like the CBA without compromising anyone’s ethical duty to clients. The work of the Toronto Opinions Group — TOROG — mentioned yesterday on Slaw is a good but relatively rare example. Even easier, because of the (theoretically) reduced level of competitive culture, would be collaboration among law schools, where truly great social resources could be produced by shared — and distributed — effort.