Lowering the Primary Barrier to Legal Innovation – Access to Good Data

[Editor’s note: Slaw.ca does not typically publish releases or announcements, but we are making an exception here below. We wish Colin the best of luck in his new non-profit initiative.]

Ottawa, September 21, 2020 – The Legal Innovation Data Institute brings the power of many to meet the interests of all.

Imagine trying to write a story with only a partial alphabet. Or trying to write a song with access to just a few notes. It’s the same with legal data – the more you can access, the more you can do. Through a unique member and collaborator model, LIDI lowers legal data access barriers in Canada and facilitates innovation on an unprecedented scale.

Though the first organization of its kind, this federally incorporated not-for-profit takes inspiration from the global free access to law community as well as many other public interest legal technology innovators and university research labs. The LIDI was founded in September of 2020.

LIDI partners, collaborators and advisors bring a world of creative talent to pressing justice and technology challenges and opportunities. Together, we seek to make the administration of justice more transparent and less costly, the attainment of justice more accessible to more people, and the protection of personal privacy more robust for all citizens.

Access. Advance. Achieve.

There is a direct correlation between the accessibility of legal data in a country and the scale, scope and potential contributions of legal data innovation in that country. If the barriers to access are too high, the effort deemed too great, and the payoff deemed too little, then the opportunity for advancement is lost.

LIDI lowers the barriers, changes the equation and expands the circle of innovation in Canadian legal data beyond the small and closed group of legal publishers that currently possess extensive primary law collections (i.e., judgments, legislation and regulations).

LIDI members and collaborators gain access to the LIDI Data Trust, which contains an extensive and growing collection of court decisions. The base collection is supplied by Compass, successor to Maritime Law Book (a venerable Canadian publisher of semi-official provincial and national case law reporter series) and the source of the Canadian case law in the vLex legal databases used by thousands of Canadian lawyers and law students, as well as vLex and vLex Justis subscribers around the world.

The initial content licensed into the LIDI Data Trust includes nearly all judgments published by 43 Canadian courts over the past 30 to 50 years, but it goes beyond mere copies of court rulings. In addition to rich case law metadata, the collection includes nearly 200,000 case law headnotes and over 580,000 topic digests ordered according to a 150 topic Key Number System. The content is available to members and collaborators as bulk data and through highly extensible and customizable API’s using the ThinkData Works Namara platform.

LIDI’s mission includes expanding the collection well beyond its starting point to eventually include the millions of documents that comprise the decisions of all Canadian courts and tribunals. All content added will be cleaned, normalized and enriched by LIDI and its supporters to accelerate the research and development efforts of members, collaborators and the supplying courts and tribunals.

Access creates opportunities for advancement and achievement. To that end, LIDI collaborates with public and private sector entities to advance public interest objectives in 4 key areas:

1) protection of personal privacy, including co-development with Private AI of intelligent de-identification machine learning models that differentiate between justice system participants and private citizens engaged as parties or witnesses;

2) data clean-up, normalization and enrichment;

3) development of free public legal apps; and

4) advancing French language access to justice through extending to French materials the innovations and legal artificial intelligence models developed for English content.

Visit LIDI.ca for more details on these and other development projects.

Research and development partners engaging with LIDI on these priorities include:

Contributing to the above initiatives as well as pursuing their own, are leading access to justice organizations, legal publishers, advanced technology firms and translation enterprises, including:

LIDI members gain data access for “internal and non-commercial” activities. For example, justice non-profits, law firms, legal clinics, courts, governments, and corporate legal departments may seek to enhance their knowledge management efforts, build internal predictive modelling tools or create public interest legal tech tools. Whereas universities, startups, legal publishers and technology companies may pursue empirical or academic research, rapid prototyping or proof of concept development, market entry evaluation, or training and refinement of legal domain-focused machine learning models.

Colin Lachance, founder and Executive Director, manages LIDI’s operations. As co-founder and CEO of Compass, former General Manager for North America of global legal publisher, vLex, and former President and CEO of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII), Colin brings a decade of executive legal publishing leadership, innovation and legal data stewardship experience to the LIDI mission. Colin is supported in this effort by expert advisors from a broad range of specialties relevant to the LIDI mission and priorities, including:

  • Randy Goebel – co-founder of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute and Principal Researcher of the Amii xAI (explainable) Lab
  • Meredith Brown – justice system innovation expert and partner with Calibrate Solutions, and former Innovation Office Executive Director within the Ontario Ministry of Attorney General and past Chief Legal Officer to three Deputy Attorneys General
  • Noel Corriveau – “responsible AI” expert and legal counsel with INQ Data Law, and former Special Advisor on Artificial Intelligence to the Chief Information Officer of Canada within the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
  • Sarah Glassmeyer – American Bar Association Centre for Innovation project specialist and legal counsel to ABA Standing Committee on Delivery of Legal Services, a “lawyer, librarian and technologist” and former Research Fellow of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab
  • Cory Janssen – CEO of AltaML, one of Canada’s largest “pure-play” machine learning companies building transformational software applications

For more information, including how to join or support the Legal Innovation Data Institute, please contact us at team@LIDI.ca


  1. Thank you for getting the ball rolling on this!!

    In my view, this is a critically important initiative, given that Lexum/CanLII is increasingly restricting access to legal datasets. The most recent version of the CanLII terms of use even prohibits researchers from hiring grad students to download case law (s.6(c)).

    Have you found a way to make newly released decisions available from sources that have adopted the Lexum Decisia software backend?

  2. Hi Simona,

    Thanks for the support. The content licensed into the LIDI comes as a compilation of decisions, headnotes, topic digests and case metadata developed by Compass. As with all Canadian legal publishers, Compass receives the cases via email directly from the courts as they are issued.

    Regarding sources that use the Lexum Decisia software as a backend, the LIDI will be approaching those courts and tribunals to request a direct feed into the LIDI Data Trust using the export or API capabilities built into Decisia. Apart from opportunities to add breadth of coverage beyond courts, this would increase the depth of coverage for individual courts beyond the 30-50 year coverage period in the Compass compilation and allow LIDI to return enriched metadata back to the supplying courts and tribunals to support their own innovation efforts.