8th International Law via the Internet Conference: Take-Away Thoughts

Last week I was fortunate to attend the international conference Law Via the Internet held in Montreal, hosted by the good folks at LexUM who bring us our CanLII system.

Law Via the Internet coincides with the annual meeting of the Legal Information Institutes (or LIIs) from around the world.

Here are some of my take-away thoughts from the conference:

  • free public access to law is key to helping developing countries eliminate poverty. Simply put, making the law accessible allows lawyers in a country do their job representing people, helping fight for people’s rights. Furthermore, organizations wanting to financially support an emerging country look to see what laws are in place, whether they will have recourse in the law if they run into any difficulties. If all they see is chaos (my words, not from the conference), they are less likely to give financial support to a country or group inside the country;
  • this concept of free public access to law has grown to 22 organizations world-wide; I was pleasantly surprised to learn of movements in Africa, South America, and Europe;
  • LexUM in Canada is heavily involved in bringing free public access to law to organizations in the Francophonie worldwide;
  • Canada’s LexUM is possibly the largest LII group, hovering around 40 staff members; in other jurisdictions there may be one sole person who cares about the movement and is working to contribute what he or she can. These people need support from others to keep working toward the free access to law ideal;
  • there is a new desire in the free public access to law movement to include not just primary materials of legislation and case law, but also secondary materials such as treatises and law journal articles (or doctrine) in the systems. The question is how? And how does this benefit the public; should works about the law written specifically for the public be included;
  • there is a question of whether some blogs and wikis are emerging as new doctrine that should be included as well (and again, how?);
  • how do we promote learning about the law in other ways? Is anyone being taught about the law in our high schools, for example? Students will need to know this in future when going into business, signing contracts and other agreements, and for their own consumer protection for example;
  • the free public access to law movement is also linked to the idea of digital preservation of legal materials. The questions are: how is this done and what materials should be gathered/included by a LII? I wonder if perhaps some “best practices” or guidelines should be put together for those starting up digitization projects if they want to include materials in a LII system?
  • there is a desire to not standardize interfaces across the LIIs worldwide. They like to maintain the flexibility and creativity of individuals and individual jurisdictions; moreover, there is significant friendly competition between the LIIs that help drive them forward with new innovation which would be lost if they settled on a standard;

The 9th International Law Via the Internet conference will be held in Florence, Italy. See you there?


  1. There was an interesting study done in England some years ago (the reference to it is in my casebook) which showed that teaching basic business law to busiess managers significantly increased the incidence of litigation; people knew how to play the games of offer and acceptance, consideration, etc., and did so. Another study in Canada, never published, I am sorry to say, showed that people buying or selling houses did not expect as much compensation as the law would allow on breach. Put these two findings together and its not obvious that teaching everyone about legal doctrine is always a good thing.

    How one informs people without inciting them to seek more than they had expected requires books, articles, papers, etc., that focus less on the rules and more on the principles and concepts. “Elementary” books on law are all about rules. One English writer even derided business people for not knowing that they could get expectation damages for breach of contract! If you did not, as a matter of fact, expect that level of damages, how can you possibly be entitled to it?

  2. Put these two findings together and its not obvious that teaching everyone about legal doctrine is always a good thing.

    Or, more generally, law plus smart people equals loophole and other fanciful, even apocryphal creature hunting. That, some might suggest, could justify a quota on the number of people with “above average” IQs permitted to study law for the purpose of going into practice, whether in private practice, in house, or advising the government. Teaching law, of course, is another mattter entirely.

  3. At the previous Law and the Internet conference in Montreal, someone from a big legal publisher noted how much work is involved in legal publishing: selecting, editing (deleting personal info or sealed info, as well as making coherent), organizing, etc. Question: who pays for this, in the free legal info world? What is the answer to that now? Who DOES pay for CanLii – all of us lawyers through our law society dues? Who pays for the 40 employees of LexUM – the Université de Montréal, i.e. the Quebec taxpayer? These are not necessarily ‘wrong’ or unacceptable answers, I’m just wondering. And are these or other sources of funding sustainable at the levels required?

  4. John, info. may be found at http://www.canlii.ca/en/info/about.html

    and particularly the following paragraph:

    CanLII is funded by the members of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, in other words, the bar associations of Canada’s provinces and territories and the Chambre des notaires du Québec.

    So, as a lawyer, we paying around 20$ to this institution in our annual fees. A quite efficient business plan, no? But I’m not sure that my own opinion is perfectly objective.