Old Wine in New Bottles

Borrowing a well-worn title for this post seemed appropriate. I trust Milton Freidman, Noam Chomsky, the Pacific Lutheran University Wind Ensemble, or the countless others who have used the title before me won’t mind.

I’m spending my Saturday cleaning up and organizing a 4-year accumulation of papers, ideas, knick-knacks and other items that have marked my time at CanLII. To keep me company, I needed to select just the right musical mix and I’m very happy to have set the dial on Songza’s “funky” mood channel. The music offers the ideal groove for the act of sorting through history to determine what needs to be kept, what can be junked, and what warrants re-prioritizing. Spend some time with the infectious music on this channel and you will be treated to endless beats and lyrics from the 60s, 70s and early 80s that are brilliant in their own right but that also evoke thoughts of more recent music. I always knew that modern pop, rock and hip hop borrowed heavily from the past, but I was less aware and connected with the originals.

Both the music and the old materials passing through my hands reminded me that many of the latest and greatest new things, trends and ideas aren’t all that new. In spite of all the legal industry change we’ve seen, discussed and forecasted in recent years, much of the innovation and disruption (to use a couple words that have been so overused as to now induce eye-glazing instead of excitement) are little more than iterations, improvements on ideas of older vintage. Apps, cloud-based services and lean processes are the bottles, the wine is and has always been things like efficiency, problem-solving, cost-savings, customer focus, and self-help.

This observation, itself not new, is not intended to be dismissive of new services. Quite the opposite. My target is the old bottles. I needed a particular musical soundtrack for my day and Songza was the bottle that delivered the choice, ease of use and ambience (the wine) I needed. Given some of the musical selections, the old bottles in this analogy were most likely vinyl, but could have been 8-track.

So as we continue to “reinvent law” with all these new bottles, let’s keep that old wine flowing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll use this song to get started:



  1. Wonderful insights Colin. You rightly point out that given the conservative nature and purpose of law in contemporary society that the new and improved will continue to be iterations of the conservative or as you write, more of the same. I guess a different question and orientation needs to be asked and pursued. As to your observations on music and the seeming parasitical nature of contemporary music, I would guess there are musicians out there who would suggest you get out more or listen to different kinds of music to see that “it ain’t the same music as your mother’s”. Law is by its very nature very conservative, music is by nature revolutionary.