Whither CanLII

Last week I attended the HALL (Halifax Association of Law Libraries) annual publishers forum. This is where the usual suspects of legal publishing, print and electronic, regaled HALL with their new products and offers. Many of these offerings are very interesting and I always enjoy coming to this forum and seeing in which directions the various publishers are moving in. Among the group this year was CanLII, demonstrating their Reflex options. This made me start to think about a few things. How do the vendors view CanLII? As we have seen from previous posts, in Australia, the vendors have decided to “join em? rather than “fight em?. How far can CanLII go with “value added? features? Is CanLII going to settle into a complimentary role or will it take on a competitive role with the for profit vendors? And moreover, how do I feel about this? I’m a big fan of CanLII, I believe the product of public legal system should be publically available. At the same time I am an inveterate user of the value added features available from the vendors. In my environment CanLII is becoming one of the primary options in teaching legal research to non-law students or SNAILS (students not actually in law), who may not otherwise have access to the vendor databases. CanLII seems to be accelerating their growth in the last couple of years, as evidenced by winning the 2005 Hugh Lawford Award for Excellence in Legal Publishing from CALL/ACBD. My question is not where is CanLII going? But rather, where do Canadian Legal Researchers see CanLII going?


  1. Hi Mark:

    I personally think CanLII should be more broadly funded, not primarily through fees applied to lawyers through their law society memberships. I still think that most lawyers will continue to use the valued-added commerical databases, especially where they can pass the cost on to their clients. As such, members of the public (or those who cannot afford to access the commercial accounts) will be the primary beneficiaries of CanLII.

    As part of my LLM thesis research, I complained in my thesis as to why the entire Supreme Court Reports have not been put on CanLII (or the court’s website), either in HTML or PDF since the cost of doing so is not great. Ditto for the Federal Court Reports. Shame on our government!


  2. I know that CANLII has just recently met to decide on their future directions. I can’t give more detail but as I understand it there are two possible goals: CANLii stays as it is with improvements to the databases or CANLII grows to challenge the legal publishers and become the site of choice for legal researchers. I’m not sure when or how they will be releasing the results of their future planning, but this does seem to be the general direction. There is also a meeting in Ottawa early in November of the Federation of Law Societies to discuss the future of CANLII inter alia.


  3. Those of us whose experience in this sector goes back as far as CLIC (the Canadian Law Information Council) sense that this cross in the road is going to be difficult.
    But if CANLII sees its vision as being a low cost provider of legal information to a broad based community, then I’d have the goal as expanding coverage as far back as government wants to donate data – along the lines of the AUSTLII model where High Court decisions are available back to the birth of the federation.
    I would not be distracted by the message that the publishers led back then – that it was somehow unfair for anyone to cut into their lucrative market.
    As I’ve said my mantra before, the publishers’ premium on low cost information is linked to the quality of additional material and functionality added. Editorial enhancements that go way beyond CANLII. For that we – and our clients – will pay money

  4. Actually since Canlii is the closest thing we have to a legal commons I hope that they’ll consult the community of users about future directions. Using web based survey and collaboration tools should be a snap.
    The decisions need democratic validation and I don’t simply mean consulting the funders/shareholders.
    No one should sell or close the commons without a village debate.

  5. CanLII is continuing its original route, exploiting the best of today technology to make the law more accessible. There is a consensus among CanLII stakeholders and developers that CanLII is not going to replace legal publishers. What is being explored is the creation of richer information ecology, where besides scattered but necessary government sources, alongside commercial sources, users can find a high quality, open and free legal information resource. For the Canadian law societies this appears as an important tool to favor the competency of their members. Obviously, CanLII may also provoke the development of even better commercial tools, for they will have to distinguish their offerings from what can be provided for free.

    So, for sure, legal professionals will use more CanLII in the future. That’s fine, for CanLII is there for the long run, and it will be continuously improved.

    On the other hand, as “Simon C.? said, commercial publisher’ offerings go way beyond what CanLII can provide and for that reason the commercial publishers will continue to serve the legal profession and to make good benefits out of it. That must be fine with all of us.

    As a final note, some of you may have noted that CanLII has started to expand its collection of historical Supreme Court of Canada judgments.