The Untold Story of the Smaller Legal Publishers

I’ve enjoyed recent columns by Gary Rodrigues and Robert McKay about the history of Canadian legal publishing. I joined CLEBC in 1988, and over my career it has been fascinating to watch the changes; for instance, Lexis’ purchase of Quicklaw, Carswell’s purchase of Canada Law Book, the rise of CanLII (and its technology partner Lexum), and the development of Irwin Law

You might conclude that with all the products and services offered by publishers such as Lexis, Thomson, CCH, and so on, there would be no need for any other legal publishers in Canada. There’s no doubt that each has a vast array of content; not only primary law, but secondary content as well.

But the truth is, none of the really big publishers meets every information need. Plenty of secondary information (especially jurisdiction-specific information) is published by the smaller players. The smaller legal publishing shops certainly don’t attract as much attention, but we’re here, meeting the needs of the markets we serve.

Our federal system is a great gift to Canadian legal publishers; it means that each province has a considerable body of law and practice unique to that jurisdiction. CLEBC has been tremendously successful in meeting the need for practical information about how to practice law in British Columbia.

Our book publishing program was launched in the mid-1980s as an outgrowth of our continuing legal education programs. One of the key features of our offerings is a comprehensive set of course materials. (We still do our best to ensure that all our presenters also write a paper about their topic.) Eventually it became apparent that these course materials (most of which were excellent papers) could form the basis for a series of practice manuals.

Our first publication was the Family Law Agreements Manual: a collection of annotated separation and marriage agreements (now entitled Family Law Agreements: Annotated Precedents). A committed editorial board reviewed the content of the book to ensure its accuracy. This publication met with widespread approval (and strong sales), and it wasn’t too long before we launched another book: Canadian Criminal Jury Instructions. (This book continues in print and Professor Gerry Ferguson, one of the original authors, still takes a lead role in updating it.)

Other practice manuals followed in quick succession. We now have an active list of 50 titles, covering all major areas of practice (litigation, family, real estate, commercial, and wills and estates) and a few less obvious topics as well.

When our publishing program was launched, we drew our inspiration from (and were mentored by the leaders of) the successful publishing programs of a small group of American CLEs: Michigan, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and California. Each of these organizations has a very successful publishing program to this day.

I was fortunate to sign on to the CLEBC publications department as a legal editor in 1990, just when we were embarking on the project to provide practice manuals for every major practice area in BC. I’m proud to have managed and edit publications that now form core resources for BC legal practice.

Now, in 2013, most of our publications are also published online, and some include a document builder feature. We also publish a case digest service (all decisions of the BC superior courts) and an online precedent service.

One of the reasons for our success is that there was little competing British Columbia content available from other legal publishers. Although Butterworths and Carswell used to have editorial offices in Vancouver, each moved their offices back to Ontario in the early years of our publishing program. I have no way of knowing what they were thinking, but as far as I could see they were not pursuing the opportunity to provide more BC-specific information/secondary material. Of course, the BC market (now with over 10,000 practicing lawyers) is one-quarter the size of the Ontario bar (over 41,000 lawyers) and it is likely that they saw a better opportunity in focusing on the Ontario market. (Each publishes some excellent BC resources, though, such as the BC Annual Practice (Canada Law Book)).

Meanwhile, back in the here and now, legal publishing news over the past month has been dominated by Thomson Reuter’s announcement that it is moving away from its role as a content provider and repositioning itself as a “solutions business”. Jason Wilson’s blog provides an excellent wrap-up of reaction to this news.

It seems to me that Thomson Reuters is trying to be all things to all people (or all lawyers, anyway). But British Columbia isn’t the only North American jurisdiction with a thriving legal publishing program determined to serve our local lawyers. I doubt we’ll meet the needs of BC lawyers for “solutions”, but we’ll continue to do our very best to provide excellent jurisdiction-specific practice information.


  1. Thanks, Susan, for your kind comments, though in my case I can only write with modest authority on professional publishing on the other side of the Atlantic.

    I agree with you as to the importance and relevance of the smaller publishers. Of course, the problem (or opportunity for them) is that they get swallowed up sooner or later. It’s timely for me to exchange views on these matters, as I shortly have a Slaw column on “An Exciting Time for Legal and Professional Publishing”, which ponders on the innovations around, the directions of the giants and the opportunities of one kind and another of the small ones.

    With recent developments at Thomson Reuters UK

    I think that one will run and run.

  2. Susan, your comments about the smaller law publishers in Canada certainly resonate with me. Having worked for both large and small companies (Butterworths, Carswell and, most recently as Vice President of Canada Law Book) I am now with Emond Montgomery Publications. This privately owned Canadian company was started by Paul Emond in 1978 and first established itself as a publisher of casebooks for law schools. Emond Montgomery has since become the leading Canadian educational content provider for law students, law clerks and paralegals, publishing in print and digital formats. In 2012, Emond launched a Professional Division to broaden its publishing initiatives to practising legal professionals.

    I was pleasantly surprised on joining Emond Montgomery to discover that, notwithstanding its prior mandate to focus exclusively on the academic market, its publications have sold widely to practitioners in law firms and government. This is attributable in part to the very practical approach taken in its publications, distinguishing them from coventional treatises, most of which are now in looseleaf format with the associated expense and inconvenience so unpopular with the legal community. I have also discovered that, in spite of maintaining a low-key promotional approach, Emond Montgomery’s stellar reputation among its customers, for both editorial quality and customer service, is well known. I agree that the small law publishers in Canada, which provide personal service and customised resources, remain important and relevant to the information needs of the legal community.
    Ruth Epstein, Vice President, Professional & Law School Division, Emond Montgomery Publications