New CanLII

CanLII launched their new site today. After several months of beta testing, plenty of opportunities for feedback, and some direct user surveys, CanLII has a new look and new functionality.
New CanLII
I highlighted my favourite function, the ability to have a field based search functions right up front. My use of the system will most often be the “advanced” searching. I have to acknowledge that the wide searching offered by the single entry box search interface is backed up with some excellent filtering and narrowing options that make the system flexible and user friendly.

A nice feature fo the new site is a rich pop up help box that is plainly available with a “How to use our new search” in a static left menu. The popup shares excellent details, with links at the bottom to the CanLII search assisting YouTube channel.
New CanLII How to
A service that is more up-front on the new site is the CanLII Developer Network for all those folks looking to the next CanLII Hackathon event.

The change to new CanLII was well managed, well paced, and I think the site will be well liked.


  1. Shaunna,

    I disagree.

    Searching has been made “more efficient ” or more “user friendly” only for those who don’t already have a good idea of what they want so begin with generalities and then start narrowing.

    What the main screen needs is an obvious link to advanced search templates. Maybe they’re coming. But they’re not available yet. CanLII called the templates it had beyond the main screed part of its advanced search functions. Will they remain available? They’re still referred to if you go into “Help”. Without those, limiting searches is a time consuming iteration of opening boxes with drop-down menus.

    I’ll give you an example. I usually want my case law searches referring to a particular SCC limited by date range and often particular court. I don’t want all cases. I could do that from the main screen. Now I have to drill down 3 or 4 screens to filter the unlimited result that the main screen now produces.

    One might ask, not rhetorically – because Colin admitted it in earlier discussion: the term he used was, I believe, something like “Googlefication” of CanLII – what CanLII knows about Canadian users of its service that the UK and Australian providers of BAILII and AUSTLII, respectively, don’t know, and ought to know, about their home users.

    Or, perhaps, one might ask, what’s apparently different about the majority of Canadian users of CanLII? (That they’re more likely to be hockey than soccer fans probably isn’t relevant.)

    I’m not plumping for stasis. CanLII has made a decision to install a primary interface for which the manner of use mimics the approach used by leading search engines. I’m sure that decision wasn’t made lightly. However, the old templates were very useful and powerful and, in my view, easily used even by people who hadn’t “RTFM’d”. Perhaps the programming of the new interface precludes the existence of those templates. If so, that’s unfortunate.


  2. Not a big fan so far, but in time I’m sure I will adapt.

    The link to Help at the bottom of the page still refers back to the old search templates ( That should be changed soon.

    The system to narrow searches after the fact seems have watered down the ability to filter by court level. If I just want results from the Alberta Court of Appeal, the drop down box is of less assistance. In doing a search for “family status” I have to scroll through several pages of Supreme Court of Canada decisions before reaching the Alberta Court of Appeal.

    On a related note, a search for Alberta decisions using the term “family status” returns as the first four results cases out of the SCC. I understand that what the Supreme Court of Canada says sometimes has application in Canada, but the results are certainly not what I expected. Did the “old” CanLII provide results like this too?

  3. I have heard from several lawyers and secretaries about their frustration with and dislike of the new search interface, and I have to agree. I have no issue with a simplified search screen or the “Googlefication” of search, but I think there should still be a link from the search screen to an advanced search interface. I understand that CanLII has to find a balance between designing an interface that will give the general public the best shot at finding what they’re looking for with the least amount of frustration and appeasing advanced users, but I think retaining the advanced screen would go a long way toward striking the right balance.

    And yes, updating the help menus would be helpful. The help menu displays a screen cap of the old advanced search, and upon clicking the help link, one the lawyers said, “yes, that’s exactly the screen I’m looking for! Now how do I get to it?” Fair question.

  4. Stephen, One of the complaints about old CanLII was that you had to tell it to search SCC decisions, which must be followed in every jurisdiction unless they can be distinguished, along with decisions from the courts of a province or territory. I think the search results that you report are an attempt to address that complaint. You raise a good point though, you cannot exclude SCC with the current filters – perhaps a small glitch with the site launch?

    David, I was originally also hoping for the classic Advanced Search to be maintained. I wonder if the thought was “give people a week to live without it and see what the reaction is”. I have no idea if that is the plan, but that might be what I would do, rolling out a completely new platform.

    I tried out your example. Using the noteup box, I plugged in a SCC citation (love the autofill and that I can search by name from the style of cause) and then clicked the cases tab, selected Alberta and Last year from the jurisdiction and date drop down filter menus. I think it was pretty fast and easy, though painfully new.

    One thing we have noticed is that you must have Compatibility View turned off for the site to work well with Internet Explorer 9.

  5. Shaunna,

    I track the SCC’s Clements v Clements 2013 SCC 32, for example. It was clear from the main screen how to set up the search syntax, then save it so that I wouldn’t have to re-enter the data each time.

    As you said, once you get to where you want, the search is fast enough. It may be faster. It’s just that the process is more convoluted now, and takes longer the first time.

    But here’s the truth: you and I, and others like us, aren’t CanLII’s target users because most of the users aren’t expert researchers. So point and click, drop down menu system is one solution for the non-experts because they’re likely to be accustomed to looking for ribbons, or bars, or menus, that they can click on for another series of menus.

    Does CanLII need to care about people such as us? Not really. Ought it to? Yes, but that’s only if it makes sense for CanLII, given its resources, and plans for the future, to create expert templates analogous to what existed before. I guess the current programming allows that to be done just because it doesn’t make sense to me that it would be otherwise. However, I don’t know enough programming to know if that guess is at all valid.

    Such is life.


  6. I recall there being some disgruntlement at the Beta stage of this release, however in live deployment I guess I don’t see how the drawbacks are so severe. Limiting the range of dates is quite easy and spring loaded with presets. It is different, but not “less featured”.
    Perhaps I am missing something?
    To track any case in the new interface one can locate the case by citation (2012 SCC 32) and then click “search for decisions citing this decision”. Save that link or better yet copy the RSS feed. If you want to reorder by “date” rather than “relevancy” (or further restrict to show only the jurisdictions you are interested in) those are such quick things to do, especially once for a link you can go back to time and again (or have pushed to you as notifications via RSS).
    I maybe wish there was a version of the old CanLII to compare beside, then we could run some comparisons, but one of my issues with the old interface is that you couldn’t restrict (or broaden) the jurisdictions after you ran a search. Crafting a search with nested operators, I would often find I’d need to copy that, backup to the search screen, then narrow the jurisdiction, paste and start over. Not necessary any more.
    Also, CanLII is miles better than BAILII or AUSTLII

  7. Nate,

    My point was that it takes more time, if one knows in some detail what one wants, to set up up the parameters hand one has to run through the menu system to get there. The old interface template form is, in my opinion, more obvious; or, to use the current buzzword, “intuitive”. Having said that, since the new interface will seem familiar to users who’ve grown up with the current form of search engines, and who often have no interest in doing anything that approaches “RTFM”, CanLII can’t be criticized for making the majority happier.

    As for Commonwealth “LI” engine comparisions, shouldn’t we be talking metric?

    Better than BAILII? – questionable; at best equivalent. One of BaiLII’s problems seems to be scope of coverage of the various divisions(?) of the England & Wales trial courts below CA level.

    Better than AUSTLII – no. AustLII is still better overall.

    CanLII’s citation / noting up feature doesn’t match AustlII’s Lawcite. Also, AUSTLII depth of coverage of the Australian jurisdictions exceeds CanLII’s. AUSTLII also includes some online journals.


  8. Kristin

    “And yes, updating the help menus would be helpful. The help menu displays a screen cap of the old advanced search, and upon clicking the help link, one the lawyers said, “yes, that’s exactly the screen I’m looking for! Now how do I get to it?” Fair question.”

    My understanding is you don’t because you can’t. An attempt to run a saved old search produces an error message:

    500 Error – Service temporarily unavailable
    CanLII’s search engine is temporarily unavailable. It will be restored in the coming hours. We apologize for the inconveniences

  9. If you know the particular court or jurisdiction you want to search isn’t the easiest way to go in through the “Browse” options and choose your particular jurisdiction or court before entering search terms?

    I dislike change as much as anyone but I’m finding the new CanLII fairly easy to adapt to. The fact that I can’t limit my search by date is a bit irritating.

  10. Emily,

    You can limit by date but I’ve not found a way to do that in my initial search. You have to filter the results of your first search.

    Click on cases – 2nd tab – and use the “Any Date” menu. You’re provided with a number of preset date ranges and, at the bottom, the ability to define your range.

  11. David,
    The original context for discussing AUSTLII and BAILII was as to user experience. So when I say CanLII is better, I am not talking about anything greater than user experience and interface.
    In this respect, CanLII is a full metric ton plus at least a dozen (that’s the integer “12” in metric) kilometers better than its cousins. It is a much cleaner interface. You can scrape an RSS feed from any set of search results and get new cases pushed to you. Keywords are auto-highlighted so you can jump to the point of relevance in any case. The Satal tool lets one see amazing point in time comparisons of statutes. You can easily download a PDF of a case (rather than an ugly .rtf)
    And one more thing.
    At least CanLII has the option of displaying results from a specified date range. This appears to be a big issue in this thread… and one cannot do this on AUSTLII at all.
    Not to detract from AUSTLII’s awesome coverage and the fact it has more commentary, but when it comes to respect for the user and well-thought-out features CanLII is a different animal altogether.
    CanLII is state of the art, in my opinion.

  12. Nate,

    We’ve an eye of the beholder issue. I think it’s more like it’s catching up. Whether it’s state of the art I’ll leave to the programmers.


  13. CanLII remains a lawyer’s best friend and WestLaw/QuickLaw’s worst nightmare. It’s hard to argue with that kind of track record.

    My first use of the new interface was surprisingly easy, effective and fruitful. My vote says good job, Colin and crew.