Commercial vs. Free Online Databases Survey Results

Two weeks ago when I’d last posted, I’d asked for replies on your use of commercial versus free online databases for legal research, with a breakdown between legislative, caselaw and legal commentary issues. My own practice is predominantly using commercial databases over free. The response I received from others on Slaw, and from some colleagues at my firm, were instructive:
*Use of commercial ($) db’s rather than free: Legislation: >50%: 4
<50%: 3
50%: 1

*Use of $ db’s rather than free: Caselaw: >50%: 7
<50%: 0
50%: 1

*Use of $ db’s rather than free: Legal commentary: >50%: 7
<50%: 1

I learned from this rough survey that I should take another look at the free legislative databases available, although I suspect part of the skew in choice stems from the rather fluid understanding of the term “research”. It can include looking for a downloadable copy of a specific statute or regulation (for which the free databases are adequate), or can include searching for relevant statutes or regulations for a given issue, in which case I am still inclined to use the commercial databases (which includes our Queen’s Printer as we pay for a subscription for it). The availability of provincial legislation, and how it is accessed and paid for, may also count for the differences.

Almost everyone surveyed relied more on commercial databases for caselaw research and legal commentary, which is unsurprising. Hopefully CanLII will continue to improve its scope of coverage and search utilities, so that it becomes a reasonable alternative for doing caselaw research. (For example, Alberta cases are only back to 1998).

I also learned that I have a lot to learn about designing surveys! Thanks to Simon Chester for contributing several results from his firm, and to Connie Crosby for your comments on CanLII.

[I’m posting earlier than my designated date as I will be away on “retreat/holiday” for next week. Cheers!]

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