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.