Yes, PLEIs, and Thank You

Last month I participated in the CBA Equal Justice Summit, and previously I wrote about its highly effective opening evening simulation.

I found the plenaries and parallel workshops equally stimulating. Indeed, they seemed to diverge in character from traditional conference sessions. The plenaries engaged participants with multimedia, debate, and even theatre. The workshops I attended were interactive, beyond a handful of questions post-presentation, and some drew from the diverse thoughts of panels larger than I often see in conferences.

The pursuit of equal access to justice is manifold, and Summit organizers, presenters, and many participants are active in this pursuit in various ways. The workshop I write about here reflects my particular interest in public legal information: “Next Generation Approaches to Public Legal Education and Information (PLEI): Engaging the Legal Profession.” This post is based on my notes during the workshop and #equaljustice discussion I recorded in a Storify. I heartily invite any of the speakers or other participants to fill gaps or offer corrections or comments.

Here’s the program description for the workshop:

Does providing the public with information and education about the law help you serve your clients? How can you be part of making PLEI work better? This workshop is designed to provide participants with some knowledge about PLEI and to actively engage in discussion about whether PLEI can be a tool to support client service. Participants will learn and engage in discussion about how their participation can improve the development and delivery of PLEI to make it a more effective client service support.

This vibrant session took a highly interactive path. Participants had filled a meeting room for a panel discussion on public legal education and information initiatives, or PLEIs (which my ears fondly hear as “please”). Speakers were Sherry MacLennan, Director, Public Legal Information & Applications, BC Legal Services Society; Hubert David, Head, Partnerships and Innovation, Éducaloi; and Drew Jackson, Director of Client Services, Courthouse Libraries BC.

The panel presentation, though, shortly turned to whole-room, free-flowing discussion moderated by the inimitable Johanne Blenkin, CEO of Courthouse Libraries BC. Panelists and participants alike offered valuable, interesting contributions.

A few highlights stand out. A few in the room emphasized the value of keeping “open” the work that PLEIs do. For example, participants recommend declaration of an explicit grant of permission for attributed, non-commercial use as Courthouse Libraries BC and Clicklaw offer, effectively similar to a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. The hope is to enable PLEIs to adapt and build on the work of each other. Limited resources and time are put to efficient use. Ideally, the content in PLEIs will propagate easily, with ongoing improvement and contribution.

A novel initiative is the Clicklaw Wikibooks project operated by Courthouse Libraries BC, which Simon Fodden wrote about recently. Four Wikibooks seem to be on the site at present, including a new family law book brought in from BC family lawyer JP Boyd and first hosted on his own sites. JP Boyd in fact also participated in the workshop, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak about the project. The idea of lawyers putting a cognitive surplus to use and, essentially, crowdsource the law—with appropriate controls—is an exciting one, on which Susan Munro wrote extensively late last year in these terms.

The concluding segments of the workshop saw panelists and participants explore the question of how to move current PLEI activities forward to advance equal access to justice. This is the challenge: Legal education and information initiatives offered at present will have to develop in a way that empowers the public. My own take-away on this point is that next-generation PLEI activities are more likely to advance access to justice via the maximum feasible exploitation of open content, technological innovation, and abundant contributions by the profession. With well-employed technology and an inclination—or even a push—to share knowledge, PLEI can be directed toward the pursuit of equal access to justice.

For more on PLEI, you may enjoy this recent Slaw piece by Karen Dyck written to coincide with this year’s Law Day. An earlier post from Colin Lachance persuasively describes the value of PLEIs in the broader pursuit of access to justice and also links to some Canadian PLEI providers. And earlier this year Michel-Adrien Sheppard shared a roundup of some of his PLEI-related posts at Library Boy, along with my Slaw note on PLEI Connect’s series of webinars.


  1. Cognitive suprlus indeed!
    Thanks for noticing JP Boyd’s new Clicklaw Wikibook. We just hosted an orientation yesterday evening for all of the subject editors who have signed on board to assist in the months ahead. We are emphasizing cross-mentorship between senior and more junior lawyers, which really sweetens the reward beyond just being part of the crowd-that-was-sourced. It’s still about building relationships, and owning your contributions to collegiality in the profession. Megan Ellis QC really helped spearhead this recruitment, and JP Boyd’s reputation did too.
    We’ve got an amazing roster of top family law counsel from BC whose collective experience , including:

    Angela Thiele
    David Dundee
    Barbara Nelson, QC
    Irene Peters,
    Eugene Raponi, QC
    Jane Henderson, QC
    Mary Mouat, QC
    Gayle Raphanel
    Don Kawano, QC
    Ron Smith, QC
    Stephen Wright
    Vanessa Van Sickel
    Megan Ellis, QC

    We have as many more lawyers who are more junior calls, and these folks are paired up with the above names to take on responsibility for “chapters” in JP Boyd on Family Law wikibook.
    We are very happy with the resources at and while we have our work cut out for us supporting such fine lawyers and the other legal organizations that are embracing this platform, we are excited.
    Naturally, if you have very potent providers of knowledge, and many of them, the hope is the individual surplus they contribute need only be minimal… but the aggregate effect can be massive.

  2. That workshop on PLEI at the CBA’s Equal Justice conference was a ton of fun to be part of – it was so cool to see the engagement of participants in discussing how providing legal information for the public can further access to justice. As you mention Kim, at Courthouse Libraries we’re very enthusiastic supporters of the sharing and reuse of information. On Clicklaw Wikibooks, we’re using the attribution non-commerical sharealike Creative Commons licence that encourages sharing and reuse for non-commercial purposes. One of the things we love about this CC licence is that those reusing or remixing the material must share it further on the same CC terms – creating a viral effect for keeping information free and accessible.