Future Law, Free Law?

The second annual FutureLaw Conference took place last Friday at Stanford University. Hosted by Codex – Stanford Center for Legal Informatics this was a conference “focusing on how technology is changing the landscape of the legal profession and the law more broadly.”

Judging by the comments in the storified #FutureLaw Twitter stream it looks like it was a very interesting and successful event. It was also live streamed and the day’s videos will be made available soon for those of us unable to attend.

Richard Susskind opened the proceedings with a talk entitled, “The Future of Lawyers: From Denial to Disruption.” The first panel on “Forging an Open Legal Document Ecosystem” really caught my eye featuring a wonderful mix of legal and technology types: Brian Carver (Free Law Project), Thomas Bruce (LII), Paul Sawaya (Restatement), and Julio Avalos (General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer at GitHub). The panelists talked about how the “lack of access to data hinders continued innovation and inhibits the creation of whole categories of technologies.”

Although I think Colin Lachance might object to this characterization, Thomas Bruce apparently pointed to the success of CanLII saying that Canadians are financing their open law project on a $30 per lawyer tax. And Sarah Glassmeyer made an interesting observation Tweeting that it is a “tragedy of the commons” that “The US bar [is] paying billions to WEXIS instead of supporting @LIICornell like the Canadians do with @canlii.” Louis Mirando‘s Slaw column on open access to law in Canada was also cited during the day’s Twitter stream.

Other panel sessions included:

  • Managing Legal Marketplaces
  • Rebuilding Legal Education
  • Legal Technology in the Public Interest
  • Legal Ethics in the Age of Machines

Michael Genesereth, an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at Stanford University, provided the closing keynote address talking about how legal technology “could have significant impact on the way law functions in society, arguably constituting an important step in the evolution of our legal system.”

Looking forward to reviewing the video archive and I’ll post the link when it becomes available.

UPDATE: The videos for FutureLaw 2014 are now available.


  1. Colin Lachance

    Hi Tim,

    I followed the #freelaw hashtag closely last week, and with each new tweet my desire to be there increased so I am really looking forward to the videos.

    Regarding Tom’s characterization of CanLII’s funding as a “per lawyer tax”, I may quibble but I wouldn’t object. The fact is CanLII’s operational funding does come from the law societies – ultimately, of course, from the dues paid by lawyers (and Quebec notaries) – in amounts that vary according to the membership size of each society. So calling it a tax, while not strictly accurate, is a useful shorthand way of capturing in a single phrase the what (“free” law), who (courtesy of the legal profession) and how (~$35 per year) of CanLII.

    When advancing our budget requests, multi-year forecasts and strategic plans to the law societies, we use the word “levy”, and the much more elegant French word “cotisation”, to describe how the total budget would breakdown by full-time-equivalent members of each law society. We seek the approval and of the law societies and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and we are obliged to make the case to justify their continuing support. To the extent taxing takes place it is at the law society level in the manner that each covers the costs of the CanLII service they have agreed to acquire for the benefit of their members.

    Among law societies, we see a variety of approaches to funding and communicating the CanLII expense to their members. It is variously seen as an operating expense, a library service, and access to justice contribution, support of legal studies, a contribution to lawyer competence and professionalism, or as overhead associated with membership in the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. Finally, it is not always possible to discern from looking at the statements put out by the different law societies, but it appears probable that among law societies, the CanLII levy is funded mostly through law society member dues.

    The Barreau du Quebec, for example, identifies CanLII support as part of their allocation of member dues to a”legal education and studies” fund. http://www.barreau.qc.ca/pdf/publications/cotisations/cotisations-en-bref.pdf

    The Law Society of British Columbia identifies CanLII expenses as similar to their Federation of Law Society expense under the umbrella of “Benchers Governance” expenses http://www.lawsociety.bc.ca/docs/publications/ar/2012-Financials.pdf Notably, B.C. also receives some funding from the Law Foundation to defray CanLII expense: http://www.lawfoundationbc.org/grants-approved-november-2013/

    The Law Society of Upper Canada identifies CanLII expense under the “Library Service” heading http://www.lsuc.on.ca/uploadedFiles/For_the_Public/About_the_Law_Society/Convocation_Decisions/2013/2014%20Approved%20Budget%20Summary.pdf

    In Alberta, CanLII falls among core programs designed to support “Professionalism, Competence and Access” http://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/docs/default-source/financial/lsa_business_plan_2014.pdf?sfvrsn=2

    Ultimately, semantics on how the legal profession funds CanLII detract from the point that Tom and others were making at that conference. Which was that both access to primary law and the opportunity for innovation in use and development of legal information are within the grasp of the legal profession for a shockingly low amount if they could follow the Canadian example.

    Colin Lachance

  2. Hi Colin,
    I agree completely that funding should not in anyway be considered the focus of comments made during the panel discussion. It was not my intention to frame it in that way. I took the opportunity to highlight the respect that CanLII has garnered in the legal community at large.
    Thanks for “quibbling.” :-)

  3. Philippe-André Tessier

    Hi Tim,
    If I may, I would also turn your attention to the Quebec model of free legal information which is supported by a government owned corporation called SOQUIJ (http://soquij.qc.ca). It was created in the seventies to “to promote research and development in the field of legal information, and the processing of legal data, in order to improve the quality of such information and to make it more accessible to the general public” (http://canlii.ca/t/xqh).
    This model is unique, even in Canada, but has delivered open access to close to a million legal decisions from all the courts and tribunals in Quebec. Thus, more than half of the decisions found on canlii.org come from the “Belle province”. And did I mention that SOQUIJ does not cost one penny to the tax payers but is entirely self-financed…
    From my end, it makes sense for the state to be involved in open access since educated citizen make for a better society!
    Thanks for your post and same as Colin, I am looking forward to the videos.
    Philippe-André Tessier
    President SOQUIJ