Indexes in Law-Related E-Books

When evaluating print law-related books for purchase, librarians will consider a number of factors: the author’s expertise, the reliability of the publisher, whether the book is heavily foot-noted, and whether it contains good finding tools, such as a detailed table of contents, table of cases or legislation or an index.

Unfortunately, in the Canadian legal publishing market – which is relatively small – the quality of indexes in print law-related books is variable since most publishers put the onus on the author to create their own index (which makes sense, since the author is the subject expert and knows his or her text quite well). However, indexes are often only created after the author has completed the manuscript and there may be less incentive for some authors to devote a lot of time to developing a high-quality index. In addition, indexing a book is not easy and there is yet to be a fool-proof software to create the perfect index.

All of this to say: indexes are an invaluable finding tool when using law-related books to research a topic.

Given the trend for legal publishers to create e-book versions of their print treatises (a topic I have blogged on several times here on SLAW – see the links at the end of this post for those past blogs), this post is a call to publishers to ensure they include indexes in the e-book versions of their books.

Below is a brief survey of some of the e-book offerings from the major Canadian legal publishers I regularly use (apologies if I have not included examples from every publisher; feel free to add comments if I have made any significant omissions).

1) Carswell / Thomson Reuters: For some time now, Carswell has had selected e-books on Westlaw Canada as part of their various “Source” products (including, for example, Professor McLaren’s Secured Transactions In Personal Property In Canada, to name but one of many). However, although the e-book version on Westlaw Canada is easy to search and browse via a Table of Contents, the Westlaw Canada version does not contain an Index, whereas the version on Carswell’s eReference Library does contain an Index, as seen in the following screenshot:

Screenshot of the online Index from Carswell’s eReference Library for Secured Transactions In Personal Property In Canada

Screenshot from McLaren's Secured Transactions In Personal Property In Canada (Carswell eReference Library Version)

I appreciate that Carswell is offering their books on two different platforms and it may not be easy to provide an index on the Westlaw Canada version, but I really like having the Index on the other version (and most of their other books on the eReference platform appear to provide Indexes as well).

2) LexisNexis Quicklaw: I regularly use the e-book version of Angela Swan’s Canadian Contract Law, 2d ed (2009) because the print copies we have are often signed out. However, the e-book version – like most if not all other e-books on LexisNexis Quicklaw – does not have an online Index, whereas I suspect Angela and Jakub Adamski spent some time developing a high quality index for the print version. However, I see in an advertisement in this week’s Ontario Reports that 3 new e-book offerings from LexisNexis (including, for example, The Practitioner’s Criminal Code, 2011 Edition, will feature indexes in the e-book version. Similar to what Carswell is doing with its eReference library, it appears that LexisNexis is making these e-books available for free for download for customers who have purchased the print version.

3) Irwin Law e-Book Library: Irwin Law offers an e-Library of its print books. Their eLibrary collection are basically graphic facsimiles of the print version (searchable and browsable) that include the Index (and other finding tools). In the “web” version of their eLibrary, the Index pages are not clickable; however, by launching the “ebrary” version of the book (which I recommend doing for a variety of reasons), the pages in the Index are clickable, taking the reader directly to the relevant page or page range indicated, as seen in the following screenshot:

Screenshot of Irwin Law’s ebrary version of a clickable Index for The Law of Evidence

Screenshot of Irwin Law's ebrary e-book showing Index to The Law of Evidence

4) CCH Online: CCH has offered online versions of its large, black loose-leaf binders for some time now on CCH Online. There are a number of useful finding and other reference tools with their products, including, for example, concordance tables of legislation (their Rapid Finder Index, available here online, is particularly useful for finding which of their titles provides information on a particular topic). Shown below is a screenshot from their Canadian Estate Administration Guide showing a clickable index:

Screenshot of the online Index from CCH Online’s Canadian Estate Administration Guide

Screenshot of online Index from CCH Online's Canadian Estate Administration Guide

5) Canada Law Book e-books: Canada Law Book (now part of the Thomson Reuters Group) has had its e-book offerings contain Indexes for some time, including O’Brien’s Encyclopedia of Forms and Precedents and the various treatises in their Spectrum products. In fact, I suspect they may have been one of the first publishers to include Indexes in their online book equivalents. Below is a screenshot showing the online index from Stacey Ball’s Canadian Employment Law, an index I use a fair bit:

Screenshot of the online Index from Canada Law Book’s Canadian Employment Law

Screenshot of Index from Canada Law Book's Canadian Employment Law (Employment Spectrum)

All in all, there appears to be some good examples of online indexes. My hope is that for any new versions of e-books where there was an index in the print equivalent, the publishers will include a clickable version of the index in the online version.

Additional resources – past blog posts by me on e-books in the Canadian legal publishing industry:

Irwin Law’s New E-Book Platform (24 February 2010)

Update re Law-Related e-Books (7 January 2009)

Digital Law Books, Redux (21 April 2008)

Digital Law Books in Canada (19 September 2007)


  1. Thanks for this Ted- it’s very interesting to see the various approaches to indexing. It’s safe to say that even in the world of keyword searching, a well-thought-out index is an invaluable tool.

    I wonder if publishers have solved what to do with indexes for *mobile* versions of their works. The screenshots you have included seem to indicate that the design aspects of ebooks on the desktop are pretty much figured out. I think that mobile is going to be a huge challenge.

    The two-panel design works really well when you have alot of screen, so this design might work on a tablet, even, but on a smaller device? I doubt it. So, how do you balance the competing needs? I’m glad I don’t have to decide!

  2. The idea that authors should be obliged (or even encouraged) to write their own indexes, just because they know the subject, is actually misguided; it’s like asking them to edit their own materials, because they know better than anyone what they’re trying to say.

    Indexing, illustrating, layout, marketing, and editing are all specialized skills, and there are an incredible number of qualified individuals who offer these services to authors and their production houses regularly. And you’re right about “tired author syndrome,” which is what I call what happens when an author finally finished years of authoring, only to be assigned more meticulous work, like indexing. Authors are ill-qualified and ill-prepared to write their own indexes. In fact, the only downside of bringing in a specialize is cost, and legal indexers can be expensive.

    But really – isn’t it worth it? Law documentation so requires good indexing if it’s going to have ANY value in real life. In this field, search just doesn’t work; why else would there be so many paralegals sifting through books and documents? You’d be crazy to let the author do it.