CLB Announces BestCase

As Slaw readers know, effective April 1, 2008, Canada Law Book is pulling its law reports and case summaries from Quicklaw Lexis Nexis ((Dominion Law Reports (since 1912)
Canadian Criminal Cases (since 1898)
Labour Arbitration Cases (since 1948)
Canadian Patent Reporter (since 1941)
All-Canada Weekly Summaries
Weekly Criminal Bulletin
Canadian Law List
Alberta Civil and Criminal Cases
Federal Court of Appeal Decisions
BC Civil Cases
BC Criminal Cases
BC Labour Arbitrations
BC Labour Relations Board Decisions
Canadian Labour Arbitration Summaries
Saskatchewan Civil and Criminal Cases
Supreme Court of Canada Decisions
Manitoba Civil and Criminal Cases))

CLB today announced a new online research service called BestCase. All its law reports ((except Canadian Patent Reporter which will not be included in BestCase)), summary services plus unreported decisions since 1976 and a note-up citator feature will be in BestCase, available by April 2008.

The name is pending. They may have trouble with the name though, since it’s very similar to one US legal information company. ((CLB has also applied for the mark BESTCASE SPECTRUM and CASE SPECTRUM, BEST))


  1. Does anyone among tne professional knowledge management folks here think this is a good thing, breaking up a single useful database into numerous less useful (but proprietorial and thus perhaps profitable) databases? It seems like pure backwards motion to me. I know Quicklaw is a for-profit operation, but one-stop shopping is an advantage, isn’t it? Or with links and feeds and high-speed connections, does it matter to the seasoned researcher? What about the occasional researcher?

  2. I’m not among the group you’ve called on, nonetheless –

    From my perspective as practitioner and sometimes quasi-academic, offering proprietary, for a fee, database collections of caselaw is a doomed project in major jurisdictions unless it’s an ancillary to something else that has value. The LII and all other free access databases have seen to that. The headnote value is added-convenience, but even that will vanish should more court-levels adopt the SCOTUS practice of having a syllabus with the judgment.

    I appreciate that that’s tangential to the question you asked about one-stop shopping; however, ease of shopping becomes irrelevant to the merchant if nobody is visiting the store because they don’t have to pay to get in elsewhere.

    Beyond that? I agree there’s value in collections of specialty databases aimed at particular areas of the profession. There, the question is whether the pricing overcomes the convenience. I don’t have a feel for the algorithm for that question.

  3. John, remember the history of the relationship and the history of online services. You’ve got to think back to an era of pre-digital information.

    I’ve obviously no knowledge of the specific licensing deals between CLB/Cartwright and Lexis/Nexis/QL, but I do remember well from CLIC days what was involved in actually getting content onto QL.

    Hugh Lawford would essentially trade off QL shouldering the very significant costs of conversion, scanning, proofing and loading for lower royalty rates. QL was for a long time running on a shoe-string and Hugh and Dick’s passion for the subject.

    So I wouldn’t be surprised if the original CLB/QL agreements were fairly primitive and reflected the fact that it was more important to get the material available electronically than make a mint. For CLB, it would also have meant that it didn’t have to launch and maintain its own online service (this after the demise of Canlaw).

    But fast forward 20 years, to an era when court cases come in digital form, and the costs of mounting computerized information has fallen dramatically.

    And instead of Hugh and Dick in Kingston, the contract has been assumed by Reed Elsevier and Lexis/Nexis, when it bought QL. With the old royalty rates in place.

    If CLB wasn’t able to renegotiate its royalty rates, then it would have seen a direct competitor controlling electronic access to its key content.

    It accordingly made the announcements that we have seen and commented on that the DLRs and the other CLB content was being removed. CLB would not have taken such a step lightly. It knew what it was doing.

    The challenge will be for CLB – like all premium charging commercial online providers – to deliver value that justifies the commercial premium.

    I’ve known Hugh Lawford, Gary Rodrigues and Stuart Morrison for thirty years and they are all dedicated to improving access to Canadian law – and let me again state that everything in this post is supposition. But the scenario I’ve sketched out strikes me as plausible.

  4. Earlier commenters bring up an interesting issue which has been percolating in my head for a couple of years now – is the legal database market collapsing? (Sounds more dramatic than I intend it to).

    With broad, free availability of simple “meat and potatoes” primary legal info (statutes, regs, debates and more and more decisions), the value proposition for commercial databases changes. The fee-for-service guys still have better search. But what I’m increasingly going to be looking for from my vendors is analysis and commentary. Those who can’t provide it are going to be in trouble.

    Wendy Reynolds

  5. The better Canlii – and the court websites behind it – gets, in terms of content and functionality, the more fee-for-service providers are going to have justify their price through value add.

    Just last week, I asked a young associate why I was looking at Supreme Court of Canada judgments downloaded from Lexis-Nexis. Firstly why paper. And next, how I would explain to the client that it was paying a premium for the same data available from Lexum and Canlii.

    Once clients ask those questions themselves, firms may start requiring a bit of thought before reaching for Lexis and Westlaw.

  6. I think we can all agree that commercial publishers weill have to provide value-added in order to compete with the free legal databases. However, take away the analysis and the commentary and publishers of law reports are, in my view, still providing value added — especially in the jurisdictional law reports such as the DLRs — simply by virtue of selecting which cases to publish. If we were to rewind 20 years, we would find ourselves in a period when comprehensiveness was the watchword for librarians who were constantly trying to find unreported decisions. Quicklaw was a godsend. Fast forward and, headnotes notwithstanding, I find that the benefits we enjoy in comprehensiveness and keyword searching of databases are offset to a large extent by their sheer size. For a profession that continues to work by the billable hours model, wading through all judgments, regardless of whether they turn on the facts or the evidence or truly explain or change the law, is not efficient. The researcher is left to become his or her own “law report editorial board”. The parallel citation to edited law reports is in itself added value as a signpost to the researcher that yes, there is agreement that this is an important case. If the end of print law reporting is near, I hope that that will not result in the demise of the editorial board in favour of providing a cheaper vat full of undifferentiated cases with one neutral citation.

  7. What if we used whether an old case had been cited recently as a guide to whether it was objectively thought valuable. Judges validate their colleagues work every day.

    Of course as John Swan pointed out, one of the great things about Professor Bora Laskin’s editing of the DLRs was that he wouldn’t report cases that he thought plainly wrong. In an online world we need to pay more attention to authorship and the composition of appelate panels.

  8. It seems to me that we now need a Digg for court rulings — a way for the legal community to rate the significance of any given decision in a specific field. If Canlii added a Digg-type rating feature to its case law collection, that could be the low-cost value-added torpedo that finally takes down the commercial legal database providers.

  9. Surely the daily practice of precedent, both what’s cited – and what’s not, represents a sophisticated pre-digital form of peer validation. Canlii already has the data to do this.

  10. I like Jordan’s idea and would add to it the ability to tag cases. I know this seems redundant, given the ability to do a full text search, but I think that individual users might like the ability to apply their own labels to groups of judgments — and something generally useful might come of it in the way of a folksonomy. As Simon C says, citation is a form of validation, but it’s citation by the courts, no? and not by individual practitioners. While we’re at it, it would be a good addition to enable lawyers (or others) to comment on cases; here, too, you might find that over time comments by an “S. Chester” would be interesting and you could subscribe to that line of commentary.

    CanLII can steal a march on the paylaw people here by adopting some of the recent social networking tools that are so incredibly popular, even among young lawyers. I know it works hard to, and does, project a serious professional image; but it could layer social tools on top of this in a stratum you had to sign up for, for example, if it wished to create two somewhat distinct images.

  11. Basing any assessment of the value of a case just on the number of times it is cited is potentially dangerous. When I was Chairman of the Grievance Commit-tee of the Faculty Association, I was frequently called on to help faculty who had been denied tenure. One of the criteria used in assessing the candidate in the sci-ences was the number of times his or her papers were cited (and there was, even in that dark age, a service providing the raw figures). I was told by the chairman of one science department that it was not unusual for a person deliberately to get a contentious paper published just so that the number of (critical) hits would in-flate his or her number of citations. The paper might not get through the peer-review process into a prestigious journal but if it was published at all that met the objects of the young scientist.

    The bare number of citations is not a very reliable guide and that fact is, of course, why cases are noted as having been followed, not followed, distinguished, considered, referred to or mentioned. A judgment where the judge simply lists the cases he or she has referred to — and there are several of these — provides nothing that can be used to validate any of those cases or, of course, his or her own reasons for judgment.

    There is, in fact, an example of a case that is frequently cited but rarely followed, viz., Semelhago v. Paramadevan, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 415, 136 D.L.R. (4th) 1. That case purported to reverse the presumption that a contract for the purchase and sale of land was prima facie enforceable by an order for specific performance. It has been almost always been distinguished on the basis that, for example, even a condominium has unique features, entitling the purchaser to specific performance. Semelhago will continue to be cited — it is the Supreme Court, after all — but, as a guide to what the courts will actually do, it’s not of much value.

    One possible solution would be to adopt the English practice of many short case comments, published, if possible, between the trial and court of appeal or that court and the Supreme Court. The Can. Bus. L. J. provides a forum for some and can sometimes accommodate the desire for speed, but there are still far too few published case comments. There are, in my opinion, also far too few annotations. As Simon C. mentioned, when Barry Reiter and I edited the R.P.R.’s we either suppressed really bad cases or made sure that such a case was accompanied by an annotation. Since annotations don’t make it into catalogues of articles and case comments, they are usually lost unless the researcher goes to the particular report.

    So long as we have no more than the raw judgments to deal with, we are back to the old problem of garbage in, garbage out.

  12. Ah when John cites that case, it still carries a sting. There’s a fascinating extract from the tapes of counsel arguments with an exchange between John, as counsel, and Gonthier J. and Sopinka J. in Norman Siebrasse’s commentary.
    It makes one realize just how valuable the old practice of reporting summaries of counsels’ arguments was.

  13. Professor Siebrasse writes, about the specific performance issue: “remarkably it was raised for the first time in the Court’s decision, without argument from the parties.” It seems the SCC took pains not to mention that except obliquely.(see paras 1 and 10)

  14. It still pains my friend John to discuss the case. Decided on grounds not in the facta nor raised in oral argument.