Dialogue on the Future of Legal Publishing: Is It Time?

Every year a ‘Vendors Forum’ is held as part of the annual meeting of the Canadian Law Libraries Association (CALL). In recent years the forum has evolved into a series of simple product presentations by the legal publishers. The most recent meeting held in the spring in Saskatoon was no exception.

In earlier years, the forum was a bit more exciting with panels of representatives of legal publishers frequently under the gun as they were asked pointed questions on the legal information issues of the day. Some thought that the questions were too tough and that the forums themselves lacked a sense of decorum. Given that the financial contributions of the legal publishers helped make the annual meetings possible, a decision seems to have been made to be more gentle with the sponsors. This development led to vendors forums becoming little more than sales and marketing presentations by the legal publishers.

The time may have come for a return to the style of meetings past. Just as time was almost up at the Saskatoon vendors forum, one CALL member asked why no one was asking the legal publishers about trends in the industry and the impact of those trends on CALL members. Given that all of the legal publishers were present in the room, the occasion did seem to provide an ideal opportunity to ask those very important questions. As it happened, the clock had run out and it was time to move on to another session.

Specifically the questioner wanted to know whether there was a trend toward offering online products by subject or practice area. The presentations that day had included announcements by LexisNexis of online products organized by areas of legal practice that included collections of secondary content linked to primary data already available on Quicklaw. These products were very similar in character to the Source products previously announced by Carswell Thomson, as well as to certain products available from Canada Law Book and CCH. The question was right on point. No answer was forthcoming.

In planning the 2009 meeting in Halifax, the organizers could do worse than consider a return to the style of previous meetings where legal publishers were asked tough questions on the critical issues of the day. To be effective, the questions need to be circulated in advance to allow time for a thoughtful response. There are certainly enough issues to discuss, including such things as the impact of online on print.

In my experience, a full discussion of major issues facing librarians, legal researchers, and legal publishers has paid off for everyone. The best example of this was the rejuvenation of the Canadian Abridgment in the late 1980’s that followed an annual meeting of CALL where a genuine dialogue took place between the research community and the publisher. As a result of that dialogue, the Canadian Abridgment gained a new lease on life and ensured its continuing role in the legal research market.

In my view, the time for a real dialogue on the future of the legal publishing in Canada has come again. The annual meeting of CALL in Halifax is an ideal place for it to begin.


  1. This is a timely posting but does not accurate reflect my recollection of the 2008 CALL forum. I should state my bias up front – I am the chair of the Call VLC.

    The Vendors’ Liaison Committee (VLC) is an active committee of CALL and over the past few years has sponsored the Vendors Open Forum. The vendors open forum is an opportunity for librarians to raise general issues on the state of legal publishing, publisher related issues, in an open dialogue with colleagues and publishers. It is and has been well attended by librarians and publishers alike. The Publisher Product Demonstrations were offered at individual time slots during the conference separate from the Open Forum. As well the VLC hosts a business meeting.

    The committee over the last few years has been very active; the committee recently chaired a joint publisher and librarian committee that looked at the loose-leaf issue and prepared a Best Practices paper. Prior to the 2008 conference we solicited questions and comments, and these questions guided the discussion at the vendor’s open forum supplementing the questions that were raised from the floor. Issues discussed included: advertising flyers, catalogues, trends in electronic offerings, etc. In addition there were suggestions made to improve the forum and the committee is looking at establishing guidelines.

    Two of the issues you raised in this post were answered, and I am providing you with our record of the event:
    1. Is there a trend towards specialization of electronic products?
    (a) Pat McNeill from LexisNexis (“LN”) said yes. By doing so they are bring secondary materials together with the primary materials.

    (b) CLB said that they offer an array of products. You can purchase a slice or the full array and they see that model continuing.

    (c) Carswell offers a suite of specialty services and will continue to do so in loose-leaf and electronic services. The move to develop more such products will continue.

    2. Trends/Crystal Ball gazing
    (a) Preservation of materials that are “born digital” is an issue. Historic records are important.

    (b) More and more is moving online
    (c) Print materials will be sustained where customers want it but some will not survive
    (d) eBooks and journals are coming online
    (e) Authored material is combining with primary law. Publishers are trying to bridge the gap between print and online.

    There was a discussion last year about holding a panel discussion, but it was felt that it would be premature as a similar panel was a session at NE 2007. Your call to action for a panel discussion is being heeded. The committee is looking at the structure of open forum next year and this idea is being discussed. Thank you for your suggestions, they have got us talking!