We are very excited – and this is a word we don’t use lightly here at CanLII – to present two improvements to the search experience on CanLII.org.
Legal research generally involves (1) understanding what a case is about, and (2) analysing how a case had been considered in subsequent cases.
To help out, we’ve come up with a few features for conducting efficient legal research.
1) Decision highlights and paragraph-level note-ups: A faster way to understand what a case is about.
Decisions are getting longer, at least according to some people (ahem), and this can make it more challenging to find the most important parts of the decisions you’re browsing. We have found a way to help you figure out where you should direct your attention first.
As of today, if you look to the right side of any sufficiently cited decision on CanLII, there are now lines of varying shades of grey (I’m not sure if there are exactly 50 possible shades, but I can investigate if that pleases the literati) next to the decision’s paragraphs. The more frequently a paragraph has been cited in subsequent cases, the darker the line.
There are also speech balloons () next to the paragraphs that have been cited. The adventurous folks who click on these balloons will discover a list of the decisions that cite a specific paragraph in a case.
For example, to take a case that we know quite well, if you look at the CCH decision today on CanLII, you will see in the right sidebar that paragraph 16 is one of the most cited since it has the darkest line and the speech bubble indicates the number of citations.
If you click on the speech bubble next to it, you will be offered the choice to click on a link that will bring you to the 20 documents (as of this post) in the collection that cite this specific paragraph. Note that the options in this speech bubble also let you copy the paragraph or its citation. For a paragraph that hasn’t been individually cited yet, clicking on the down arrowhead icon (⌄) will give you access to the paragraph and reference copy tools.
Different paragraphs of a given case can discuss very different questions (e.g. the paragraphs that discuss a procedural issue can be cited in different decisions than the paragraphs that discuss the merits of the case). While our previous note-up feature “only” allowed you to check all cases that cite a given case in its entirety, now your note-up can quickly get a list of the cases that cite the specific paragraph of a case you are most interested in. Not only is this new feature providing you with a quicker way to understand what a case is about, but we’re also allowing you to narrow down your review of this case’s citations to only those that specifically refer to the paragraphs that are relevant to you.
2) “Decision intensity” indicators: Understanding how a case has been cited.
We have also improved the way we sort and present the list of cases that cite a given case.
There’s no better way of explaining these improvements than with an example.
Before the addition of these new features, if you “noted-up” a case on CanLII (and let’s try this with the Rodriguez v. BC case) you got something like this:
It’s certainly useful to have such a list, but it doesn’t give you any hint of how Rodriguez has been discussed in later cases. Plus, the cases that most heavily discussed Rodriguez (which is, for all practical purposes, overruled by Carter v. Canada) didn’t make it to the top of the list.
Now, if you do the same thing on the “new” CanLII, this is what you get:
Thanks to the improved snippets from the decision, you can see right away which citing cases contain the most extensive discussion of Rodriguez. Thanks to the new sorting algorithm, the BCSC and SCC decisions in Carter make it to the top. To make sure to bring your attention to the case with the most extensive discussion, we add a varying number of blue jalapeño emojis ().***
The “hotter” the discussion, the more jalapeños. A mention of a case’s reference in a footnote will probably not trigger a jalapeño, but several mentions of the same case in a discussed decision will. For those who are curious about the limits of our legal information Scoville scale, the maximum spiciness is 5 jalapeños.
Note that when you consult a decision, the “cited by” tab in the header of the decision will bear a blue jalapeño to indicate that our system had identified cases that discuss it with sufficient “discussion intensity”.
So there you go! As with any newly deployed system to do something as complex as this, you can expect some fine tuning in the coming months.
Keep in mind that the goal of the new noteup feature is to help you identify cases that contain the most extensive discussion of a previous case (whether positive, negative or neutral), not necessarily the case with the most severe criticism (although these two often go hand in hand).
For these reasons, your feedback (about all of the above) is critical in the upcoming months. Beyond fine tuning, we have already planned work this year to make these features even better. We welcome your feedback and thoughts through our online feedback form: https://www.canlii.org/en/feedback/feedback.html
As with many good things that happen at CanLII, the Lexum team is to thank for their hard work on building these features, so please keep a little place in your heart for them.
We hope you’re as happy as we are with these improvements. Happy searching!
*** I was explicitly forbidden from referring to this as the Java-based Advanced Legal Analytics Processor Enabling Notifications [about] Opinions system.)