When Free Access Publishing Leads to Hong Kong

The Law via the Internet 2011 International Conference will be held at the University of Hong Kong on June 9 and 10. This will be the eleventh international gathering of promoters of free access and innovation in legal publishing.

This year’s meeting will give a new opportunity to assess if Free Access to Law is here to stay? The published program seems to reveal expansion. No one can say for sure about the long term sustainability of free access, but after 20 years the number of countries where the approach is used continues to increase. The growth is especially important in Asia and Africa. This year’s conference will bring to the podium representatives from Hong Kong, Japan, India, Korea and Taiwan. African participants will come from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Morocco, Liberia and Sierra Leone. In these continents where access has traditionally been more difficult, numerous legal information institutes are currently being set up and various publishing initiatives are being launched. It appears that the Hong Kong Conference will be the ideal venue to take stock of the progresses made.

Some other papers will address technical issues related to law publishing on the Internet. The indexation of Chinese texts, a support system for translating Japanese law will be discussed. Sara Frug (Cornell) will present LII’s strategies to ensure high quality in their online US Code of Federal Regulations. From Canada, Morissette (Lexum) will address the issue of search engine speed, offering a glimpse under the hood of Lexum machinery to make CanLII the fastest show in town. Other Canadian contributions will see CAIJ and the Legal Information Research Chair of the University of Montreal addressing issues such as meeting lawyers’ needs and the management of the growing presence of multi-media content in judgments.

The continuing success of this cycle of conferences reflects the overall success in the development of legal information institutes around the world. This said, I believe that it could in large part be explained by the rarity of professional events for those involved in publishing the law. Most legal publishers have developed their processes and their systems internally and they consider related knowledge as commercial secrets. The Free Access to Law participants took another view. They meet in public events where lessons learned, best practices and other knowledge can be shared. It seems that this cycle of conferences will see a reinforcement of that role as a clearinghouse for legal publishing knowledge. If this turn toward a more technical content is successful, the next conferences will become a rallying point for a larger constituency, they can bring together a larger number of those interested by the future developments of legal information systems. More government participants and also more commercial legal publishers will take interest in these regular events for everybody’s benefit.

Daniel Poulin

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