Current Awareness Services in Law Libraries

One useful service that libraries can provide is current awareness. This service lets lawyers know about new or proposed developments in legislation, case law of interest, and articles relevant to their practice. It can also function as a business development tool by keeping lawyers up-to-date with what is happening in a specific industry or by letting them know if a client (or competitor) has been mentioned in the news.

Journals and newsletters

Traditionally libraries have routed a periodical or a photocopy of its table of contents around the firm. Routing a physical copy has problems: it is fine for the person who is first on the circulation list, but not so much for the person who is last. The publication may get lost en route or permanently trapped in someone’s inbox. It is much more efficient to email an electronic version of the table of contents, since everyone gets the material immediately, and it allows the inclusion of hyperlinks to online content.

However, the challenge with routing newsletters via email is copyright. Sending around the print copy of the publication with a routing slip is fine; scanning it in and sending it by email may not be, depending on the terms of the subscription. Some publishers provide PDF copies of their publications which can be routed internally or placed on the intranet, subject to the terms of the licence.


There are a number of useful tools that librarians can use to track changes to legislation. These include Lexbox, RSS feeds, LexisNexis’s Canadian Legislative Pulse, and QuickScribe (for B.C. legislation). You can use these tools to set up alerts to notify you when new bills are unveiled that make changes to specific acts or include certain keywords. Other useful publications that can be monitored include the Canada Gazette and the B.C. Regulations Bulletins.

Case law

Monitoring case law generally falls into one of two categories: monitoring either a specific case or a specific practice area for new cases.

For a specific case you can use resources such as CanLII and paid databases. Depending on the case’s jurisdiction, monitoring its progress can be tricky due the lack of easily accessible docket information. If there is sufficient public interest in a case, it makes sense to set up an alert in a newspaper database. For monitoring the status of class action lawsuits, the website of the law firm acting on behalf of the plaintiffs will usually yield useful information.

If you are keeping an eye out for new cases in a specific practice area, you can use blogs, CanLII Connects, digest services (such as CLEBC’s Case Digest Connection), law reports, and the “recent development” sheets from loose-leaf publications. However, the time it takes the commercial publishers to edit and disseminate law reports and other publications can make their services less timely than some of the other options.

News alerts

News alerts can be used to keep lawyers up-to-date in such areas as client news, developments in a specific industry, or general legal news. There are a number of resources that can be used to set up news alerts, both paid (e.g. Manzama, LexisNexis’s Newsdesk) and free (e.g. Google News). Depending on the subject area, the search being set up may end up being very complex. Generally, the more targeted the information, the more time it takes to set up the search and the more testing and fine-tuning required.

Once you have a search that you are happy with, you need to decide how you will deliver the results. Depending on the search, the results may need to be edited before they are forwarded on to the end user, as they may include duplication of the same information and/or irrelevant results. Many of the commercial services allow you to package your results. However, depending on the service you are using, you may be restricted in how you can redistribute the information.

Delivering Current Awareness

One challenge with providing current awareness services is delivering the information in a meaningful way. Generally “pushing” information to lawyers makes it more likely that they will actually see the information. However because lawyers get so much email it is important to keep the number of current awareness alerts to a minimum, while still making sure the information is timely. The more emails the library sends out, the more likely they are to be unread.

Many lawyers read current awareness material on their mobile devices, so it is important to present the material in a way that is mobile-friendly. For example, rather than attaching a table of contents as a PDF, the table of contents can be pasted into the text of the email.

Another option to consider is placing current awareness alerts on your organization’s intranet instead of pushing them out to users. Depending on the sophistication of your intranet, you may be able to tailor these alerts so that they appear only to the relevant individuals or working groups.

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