Clicklaw Wikibooks – a Lesson in Collaboration

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.”

clicklawwikibooks

At the moment they offer “JP Boyd on Family Law,” “Legal Help for British Columbians,” “Consumer Law Wikibook,” and “A Death in Your Family.”

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.

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Comments

  1. Simon,

    A correction to your posting. Ian Mulgrew is a columist for the Vancouver Sun who was reporting on the comments of BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman.

  2. Many thanks, Robyn. The BC folks were quickly on top of me for my error out of haste. I’ve since corrected the post.

  3. Glad you’ve caught wind of the newest Clicklaw Wikibooks initiative. Clicklaw Wikibooks has been around since last year with the first title Legal Help for British Columbians, but JP Boyd on Family Law has been creating some buzz lately despite its very soft launch about a week ago.
    It is all about collaboration, and tapping into the collegiality and public-mindedness of the Bar.
    JP Boyd worked very hard with us to get the basic content of his old website, http://www.bcfamilylawresource.com, up-to-date for the new Family Law Act.
    In this wiki format, which sports a very easy-to-use interface and some nice searching options from the newest release of MediaWiki, the content is (I think) much easier to find and appreciate.
    The depth of what JP has done over the past 10 years since he started his original website, is tremendous . Now (as you note) some really promising options for spreading the word online and in print are at hand, as well as some great tools for collaborating with other editors (MediaWiki is superb for handling versions and collaboration) and for interlinking the other quality resources on a topic (such as Legal Services Society’s Family Law Website).
    We will be working through the LawMatters to distribute JP’s wikibook in libraries throughout BC, although there is almost no way this resource could be less than 500 or 600 pages long.

  4. Thanks for picking up on this, Simon.

    It’s the collaborative angle of things that got me engaged in the project with Courthouse Libraries BC to transform my public legal education website into a wikibook. To be completely honest, I was also feeling somewhat apprehensive at the idea of converting my website to compliance with our new legislation, but the collaborative aspect was the ultimate selling feature. It gives me the comfort of a succession plan, takes some of the load of maintaining the site off my shoulders and adds the depth of different voices and perspectives to what has otherwise been a fairly monochrome statement of one lawyer’s take on things.

    Working with Courthouse Libraries has been fantastic, and I think the model established with Legal Help for British Columbians, their first wikibook, has an enormous amount of potential for other applications. It’s relatively cheap, operates with minimal management overhead and seems to me to fill the gap between brochures and legal service agency websites perfectly.

    Of course I can’t speak for Courthouse Libraries and Clicklaw but the economic efficiencies of the wiki platform combined with the editorial services provided by a pool of experienced contributors seem ripe for application to other projects and in other jurisdictions, and I expect that they’d be happy to share their experiences.

  5. What a great idea. It addresses two challenges facing libraries and legal information access. Libraries are normally bound by the publisher’s information format and so when they make it accessible or distribute it, they are limited to that container (nevermind licensing and copyright). This collaborative approach takes the published content and puts it in a variety of formats so the reader can choose. It will be interesting to see if people opt to stay on the wiki or download their own custom book. Since most e-book readers and devices can read a PDF, public access to information would seem to be improved by having multiple format options.

    And kudos to the Courthouse Libraries for envisaging their own role differently. Libraries are so often seen as physical content aggregators – books onto shelves – but less so digital content aggregators. In the digital world, we’re mostly seen as intermediaries linking to content, not wrangling the content ourselves. That intermediary position can challenge the rationale for having a library in a digital world. Using open source technology like Mediawiki, with its built-in e-book tools, creates a platform for people who are publishing elsewhere to share their content in a different manner. It’s still information access – a core library role – but further along the value chain than link building and shelf stocking.