Enfin. a Good Paper in the Canadian Law Library Review!

I just read Mark Phillips’s paper recently published by the Canadian Law Library Review: “Charting Law’s Cosmos: Toward a Crowdsourced Citator” (2015) 40:2 Can L Libr Rev 13. Phillips’s text is sufficiently refreshing to merit the deliberately provocative title of this short post. Immerging oneself in it is like being 40 again: abundant criticism of the slow moving incumbents, strong expressions of idealism peppered with some good ideas. Such a reading is good for the heart and the brain.

The thesis of Mark Phillips is that full-text searching alone is hazardous for legal research. Citators could be useful, but they are not good enough; CanLII’s citator, Reflex, being the worst of them[1]. He proposes to mobilize the large masses of legal researchers to contribute to the development of a better citator following an approach known as “crowdsourcing”.

The idea is not entirely new; the paper cites “WeCite” from Casetext which is indeed right on point. Projects involving legal information users for producing some sort of value-added content for the benefit of CanLII users have been discussed since 2005. Phillips rightly cites “CanLII Connects” in this respect, but of course many other schemes were discussed.

However, Phillips’ paper’s interest is that he targets the citator as the most obvious beneficiary of the users’ involvement and that he makes a good effort at suggesting approaches that can makes it work in the legal field. In this respect, he brings to our attention the Wikimedia approach of dispute resolution and collective decision-making processes and the Slashdot Moderation model based on automatic reputation management.

It’s good to see a new generation of researchers coming. We don’t need to agree with everything. One just has to enjoy the provocative idea. Thanks to CLLR to bring us Mark Phillips’ interesting contribution to the free access to law discussion.

Daniel Poulin


[1] For complete disclosure, I participate in the design of Reflex, CanLII’s citator.


  1. Danielle Blondin

    While we agree with Mr. Phillips that human assessment is essential to making citators, we’d like to take advantage of your post to clarify one of his assertions regarding SOQUIJ’s Citateur. He writes:

    “The citator included in the Quebec-focused service Azimut has the most difficulty of all with Collins, erroneously listing Grant alphabetically toward the middle of its list of decisions which mentioned Collins, and reporting that no decisions have treated Collins negatively.”

    The linked excerpt of the Citateur record for Collins (http://blogue.soquij.qc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/LeCitateur_Collins.pdf) clearly indicates that the Supreme Court of Canada applied Collins in Grant (1). It is therefore inaccurate to state that the Citateur record is merely an alphabetical list of cases that mention Collins.

    The Citateur record is subdivided into sections identifying the treatment of Collins in each judgment (applied, explained, distinguished, mentioned, and cited by the parties). Each section is then subdivided by jurisdiction that has cited Collins since 1987 (2).

    Moreover, for greater clarity, the Citateur record also refers to the pages or paragraphs of the judgments that cite Collins (3).
    Finally, I must point out that the Citateur record for Collins refers to three Quebec judgments that chose to distinguish this case rather than apply it (4).

    Overall, it may be that the Citateur has a more nuanced approach than other tools when categorizing how courts cite previous decisions.