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Why I Joined the CanLII Board as a Director

Author: Gideon Christian, University of Calgary

Last October, I was appointed a director on the board of Canada Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Becoming a director on the board of CanLII is a dream come true for me. It represents not only a personal achievement but also an opportunity to give back to a cause I deeply believe in – free access to legal information. I’ll share my journey and the reasons behind my decision to join CanLII’s board as a director.

A Quest for Access to Legal Information

My journey into the world of legal information access began during my time as a law student in Nigeria. Nigeria is a common law country and heavily relies on caselaw especially British and domestic caselaw. These caselaw exists mainly in paper volumes and are quite expensive. As a law student at the University of Lagos, I soon discovered that accessing legal information, especially law reports, was very difficult. The law library was often lacking in these crucial legal resources, making it difficult for students like me to conduct comprehensive legal research.

After I got my law degree from the University of Lagos, I proceed to the Nigeria Law School for the mandatory one-year bar part II admission program. I was in the Abuja campus which has some 1500 bar students. During a company law class, the lecturer cited a British case which he suggested we must all read. After class, I made my way to the law library to sign out a copy of the law report containing the “must-read” case. Upon arriving at the library, I was dismayed to discover that there was only one copy of the law report. Even more discouraging was the fact that I had to sign up on a waiting list, the report had already been checked out by another student who arrived earlier. Finding myself as number 23 on the waiting list, I realized that it might take several days before I could access the law report.

Addressing the Challenge

Faced with this significant challenge, I decided to take proactive steps. I wanted to ensure that future law students at the Nigeria Law School can easily access important caselaw. So, I obtained copies of class notes and all the course syllabi from students who had completed the program the previous year. Then, during a semester break, I visited the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in Lagos. There, I embarked on an ambitious and costly project: making photocopies of all the cases cited in the class notes and syllabi for the six courses offered at the Nigeria Law School. With these materials, I began drafting a caselaw book that would offer summaries of about 600 legal cases. My goal was to create an affordable, accessible casebook for future generations of Nigeria Law School students. I completed this book shortly after graduating from the School. This was a big step in making caselaw easier for students after I graduated. But it was only the beginning of my ongoing quest to provide free access to legal information.

Discovering CanLII

My journey took an exciting new turn upon my arrival in Canada as an international student in 2006. I was impressed by how easy it was to find legal information here. My discovery of canlii.org was a pivotal moment. I was captivated by CanLII’s exemplary approach to open access to legal resources. The platform provided free, unrestricted online access to a vast array of legal materials, including caselaw, statutes, and regulations. This commitment to open access resonated deeply with my own aspirations. Interestingly, when I was considering a topic for my doctoral research, I strongly considered focusing on open access to legal information in developing countries, modeled on the CanLII framework. Although I eventually chose a different research focus, my dedication to the quest for free access to legal information remained unwavering.

I quickly realized how invaluable CanLII’s services were to legal professionals, scholars, students, and the public. As a graduate student in Canada, I found myself relying heavily on CanLII’s resources. It became an indispensable tool in my legal education and research. CanLII’s commitment to democratizing legal information resonated with me on a personal level, given my previous experiences in Nigeria. It was during this time that I made a promise to myself: Someday, I would find a way to give back to CanLII. I vividly remember during my interviews for academic positions, I was often asked about the community services I would do if hired. In all these interviews, I consistently expressed my desire to serve on the CanLII board, among other positions.

The Dream Becomes Reality

Fast forward to October 2023, and my dream became a reality. I was appointed to the Board of Directors at CanLII. This appointment was not just a personal accomplishment; it was an opportunity to contribute to an organization that had played a significant role in my academic and professional journey.

In this era of generative AI, where technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, I bring a unique perspective to CanLII’s board. With my expertise in artificial intelligence, I can imagine new ways to use this innovative technology to advance CanLII’s mission and objectives. Generative AI, with its capabilities in natural language processing, data analysis, and content generation, can be a powerful tool in enhancing CanLII’s services. It can help improve the accessibility and comprehensiveness of legal information, making it even more valuable to legal professionals and the public.

Conclusion

Becoming a CanLII board member is more than a significant milestone in my journey to promote open access to legal information. It’s an opportunity to give back to an organization that has played a pivotal role in my legal education and research. My experiences as a law student in Nigeria, my commitment to addressing legal information disparities, and my appreciation for CanLII’s mission have all culminated in this moment. As I embark on this new chapter, I look forward to working with CanLII’s dedicated team to further its mission and ensure that legal information remains accessible to all, regardless of geographical or economic barriers. Together, we can continue to bridge the gap in legal access and shape the future of legal information dissemination in Canada and all over the world.

Comments

  1. What a beautiful story! CanLII, and by extension, Canadians across the country, are lucky to have you serving on the Board. Particularly excited to see what you have in mind from an AI perspective and to discover CanLII’s next steps.

  2. Congratulations! I respect your value of free legal information and CanlII is lucky to have you!

  3. Xavier Beauchamp-Tremblay

    Love this! Congrats!

  4. A wonderful story of improving public access to law. Congratulations and all the best at CanLII’s board.

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