While not unexpected, the announcement by Eric Appleby that Maritime Law Book will be closing its doors in November 2016, is still a bit of a shock. No one has done more than Eric and his indomitable team at Maritime Law Book to transform the nature of the case law reporting in this country. Unfortunately, access to free case law online and cost cutting by customers have combined to undermine the business model for Maritime Law Book, making its demise an inevitability.
When simple access was the issue
Few will remember a time when access to case law was extremely difficult, if not impossible. With some exceptions (notably Quebec) judgments were written but not collected and distributed in any coherent fashion to the legal community. In many cases, the decisions were simply filed at the local court house and forgotten. Legal publishers had access to the decisions of some judges and some courts, but not every decision and not every court. A few large large law firms had collection networks that gave them privileged access to photocopies of the most recent cases. A sole practitioner would appear in court to find his large firm counterpart citing a case of which the sole practitioner would have no prior notice.
As Eric noted in a slaw post on November 2, 2012, (The Changing Availability of Case Law), “In 1965, Maritime Law Book was founded in response to a need, namely access to judicial decisions. In 1965 the Maritime Provinces Reports (a Carswell publication) published one volume per year and the volume contained 40 to 50 cases from the four Atlantic provinces. The Dominion Law Reports (a Canada Law Book publication) was very selective and contained very few cases from the Atlantic provinces. A New Brunswick lawyer might find less than five New Brunswick cases published in a 12 month period. In 1965 all new Brunswick Supreme Court judgments were filed in the Registrar’s office in Fredericton. But most of these judgments were not published anywhere.”
Key Numbers and the National Reporting System
From his base in New Brunswick, Eric proceeded to remedy this situation by establishing the National Reporter System with law reports in every province of Canada, including for a time the short-lived Quebec Appeal Cases. The most popular feature of Maritime Law Book’s law report series was the use of Key Numbers which combines the best features of the Canadian Abridgement Classification System (Key Words providing a framework to organic cases by legal concepts, minus the associated cumbersome alphanumeric numbering scheme) with a numbering scheme modelled on the West Key Numbering System. The National Reporter System website includes the following explanation:
“Each point of law or issue discussed by a judge in a case is summarized by our editors and included as a Topic in the headnote.Each topic assigned a Key Number. For example Criminal Law Topic 5855 is the Key Number assigned to topics in every case involving sentences for robbery. This number can be used to quickly find, for example, all robbery sentencing cases without worrying about how to configure a search or what key words to use. The key numbers are categorized under 151 tiles, such as Criminal law, Family Law, Evidence, etc.”
Over the years, Maritime Law Book made a number of contributions to the Canadian publishing scene including, the publication of the only provincial bilingual law reporter; the “Raw Judgments” database of cases that did not warrant value added enhancements; and online access to the National Reporter System. Most notably, Maritime Law Book made no claims to copyright in the full text of court decisions included in its databases and served as a source for its competitors to fill gaps in their online services.
The end is near
The “decimation” of print law reports subscriptions described by Eric Appleby in his slaw post has hit every Canadian legal publisher, whether they admit it or not. Simply put print law reports are on life support at a time when competition on price between the major legal publishers and the numerous free services, has weakened every legal publisher. The situation will worsen as lower revenue mean further editorial staff cuts and lower quality as inferior computer generated enhancements replace human intervention. It is a downward spiral for law report publishers.
Will this decision by Maritime Law Book cause other publishers to rethink their decision to continue to maintain law report series, at least in print, if not online. When the number of subscribers to a series reaches a dozen or less, surely the time has come to throw in the towel and abandon the pretence that law reports are viable in print.
What happens next
What happens next is the big question. Maritime Law Book has extended an invitation for offers for its databases. Characteristically that invitation is open to everyone and is posted on its website.
The collection is a gem. For 48 years, case law worth reporting has been collected, read, edited, classified and published in print and electronic form in an even manner by a well trained and experienced team of editors. No other collection of case law matches the coherence of the collection of case law created by Maritime Law Book.
Canlii in particular should be desperate to get its hands on this asset. If these databases were integrated into its existing databases and updated thereafter in the same manner as before, Canlii would become truly competitive with the valued added databases of the major legal publishers.
The law societies and law foundations should acquire these databases and preserve them for future use. At the very least, the heritage of each province should be protected.
Commercial legal publishers may wish to acquire the databases to fill in gaps that may exist in their online services and to limit the prospect of new or strengthened competitors. To say that an online service includes all Maritime Law Report series would add marketing value to their service, even if most of the cases are already included in their collections.
Bravo Eric Appleby
On a final note we need to acknowledge the transformative role played by Eric Appleby on the Canadian legal publishing scene. Few can match his accomplishments. Maritime Law Book was “the little company that could’. Eric had a vision and relentlessly pursued it, challenging the major publishers to up their game. Fiercely independent and loyal to his roots in New Brunswick, Eric was ever the gentleman in the conduct of his affairs. Bravo Eric!
Maritime Law Book Invitation for Offers for Databases
After 48 years of caselaw reporting, Maritime Law Book is closing in November 2016. Both print and online publications will end.
Our 14 databases are now available for sale – see below.
We will entertain offers for a single database or any combination of databases.
The cases with headnotes include our unique Key Number Index System. Sales may be exclusive and will include the use of our topical breakdown.
The databases as of August 4, 2016 are:
Alberta Reports, started 1976, includes 25,015 cases with headnotes, plus 4,848 cases without headnotes.
British Columbia Appeal Cases, started 1991, includes 12,543 cases with headnotes, plus 3,369 cases without headnotes.
British Columbia Trial Cases, started 1999, includes 7,663 cases with headnotes, plus 39,911 cases without headnotes.
Federal Trial Reports, started 1986, includes 14,727 cases with headnotes, plus 17,431 cases without headnotes.
Manitoba Reports (2d), started 1979, includes 13,407 cases with headnotes, plus 2,242 cases without headnotes.
New Brunswick Reports (2d), started 1968, includes 15,998 cases with headnotes, plus 3,794 cases without headnotes.
Newfoundland & Prince Edward Island Reports, started 1970, includes 14,511 cases with headnotes, plus 1,501 cases without headnotes.
National Reporter, started 1973, includes 11,982 cases with headnotes, plus 4,181 cases without headnotes.
Nova Scotia Reports (2d), started 1969, includes 17,801 cases with headnotes, plus 4,077 cases without headnotes.
Ontario Appeal Cases, started 1984, includes 13,413 cases with headnotes, plus 12,352 cases without headnotes.
Ontario Trial Cases, started 1996, includes 13,290 cases with headnotes, plus 38,891 cases without headnotes.
Saskatchewan Reports, started 1979, includes 19,416 cases with headnotes, plus 4,321 cases without headnotes.
Total cases with headnotes = 179,766. Total cases without headnotes = 136,919.
Contact Eric Appleby, Pres. Tel. 506-453-9520 or cell 506-478-1182 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric B. Appleby, Pres.
Maritime Law Book Ltd. PO Box 302
Fredericton, N.B. E3B 4Y9
Tel. 506-453-9921; 800-561-0220
www.mlb.nb.ca – 40 years of Canadian case law, searchable and free