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Book Review: Legal Data and Information in Practice: How Data and the Law Interact

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Legal Data and Information in Practice: How Data and the Law Interact. By Sarah A. Sutherland. New York: Routledge, 2022. xxi, 148 p. Includes illustrations, tables, bibliography, and index. ISBN 9780367649906 (hardcover) US$170.00; ISBN 9780367649883 (softcover) US$42.95; ISBN 9781003127307 (eBook) US$42.95. <routledge.com>.

Reviewed by Sharon Wang
Associate Librarian
Osgoode Hall Law School Library, York University

With the accelerated adoption of technological innovations driven by advances in computing, data has become a crucial component in almost all industries. The legal sector has always been heavily dependent on information. As such, it is timely to have the discussion about what an important role data can play in improving legal services and enhancing the legal processes. Due to the nature of law as an integral part of citizens’ everyday life, data plays an increasingly special and unique role in the legal sector compared to other sectors. A book that specializes in legal data and information will be very valuable for those working in the industry who wish to expand their knowledge in this burgeoning application of data science to the law.

Author Sarah A. Sutherland is an expert on legal data in the Canadian legal community. She was president and CEO of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII) for many years before beginning her own legal consulting business.

In this concise book, Sutherland provides a comprehensive review of the available tools that can be used in legal practice and the management of legal institutes, with the hope that they can be widely used to achieve higher efficiency for the legal industry. Many of these tools have been used in other disciplines but, as of this time, rarely in law. The book analyzes multiple sources of legal information and proceeds to review their limitations and restrictions. Subsequently, all these various sources are categorized into different types of data, for their types can determine how they may be best used.

For those new to data science and data analysis, Chapter 4, “Data Analysis Techniques,” discusses in detail the ways to approach data analysis, followed by how legal data should be interpreted while employing critical thinking skills. The next few chapters cover topics including artificial intelligence in law, the law and politics of legal data, and the future of legal data.

The focus of the book is on demonstrating how data can be better understood, collected, interpreted, and applied. Sutherland discusses the data issues within the social, cultural, and legal context and identifies that the management of data can be very different in legal traditions that vary from the Canadian system. It must be noted that this book has very specific jurisdictional focuses, mainly Canada and other English-speaking common law systems.

Sutherland argues that one social advantage of promoting technological advancement in legal data processing is to reduce the inequality in access to justice so that the law can be implemented in society as intended. While much of the data generated in the legal process and system of a country is considered public information and is widely available, the concern of privacy should not be underestimated. As quoted in this book, “the law’s conception of openness is different” (p. xvi) when compared with scientific data. Sutherland cautions that the technological changes happening in the legal industry need to be watched closely, even though they have the potential to increase the efficiency and profitability of the sector.

As the author intended, the book is written for audiences in the legal industry and those with a strong technical background but very little knowledge of law. It provides a grounding for these two groups to meet in the middle so they can communicate and work with each other to create a system that allows information to play a bigger role in providing better and more accessible legal services. For this reason, the technical aspects of data are not discussed in great depth and can be practically understood by those with a limited technical background.

Legal Data and Information in Practice not only provides practical strategies but also looks to the future to show decision-makers how to prepare for a changing practice environment. The topics covered have a broad application for anyone with an interest in navigating the issues surrounding data and law. The book will be particularly useful for those working in law firms, governments, and academic institutions.

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