Our library’s first escape room – are you up to the challenge?

Gamification is a hot trend in libraries these days, particularly when it comes to teaching information literacy. It is no stranger in the teaching of legal research either – legal scavenger hunts have long been a favourite way for librarians and professors to introduce students to a variety of legal resources.

Over the summer, after learning about escape rooms in libraries, I decided that I wanted to build my own escape room for McGill Law students as a way of promoting the library while teaching legal research. Between codal provisions in Quebec civil law and the detailed rules laid out in the McGill Guide, I had a feeling that I could build the ultimate escape room for our students with locks and puzzles galore. A quick poll on social media suggested that students were a fan of the idea.

Soon after I drafted my scenario, I was approached by the McGill Law Journal‘s executive editors, who were looking for a fun way to test and improve their editors’ research skills. After sharing my escape room plan, we decided to put my theory to the test. I came up with a series of questions that tested the main skills the journal wanted to focus on, and integrated them into our scenario.

The scenario: You are a co-author of a research paper that needs to be submitted to the MLJ by the end of the month. The publication is time-sensitive, as a competing research team is set to publish in the coming weeks. Your co-author, who has the most recent version of the article, has died in a tragic accident (he was in fact, eaten by a polar bear while on vacation in Manitoba). Thankfully, you know that your co-author kept a USB key with the latest version of the paper somewhere in his office. You need to recover the USB key to continue working on the paper and submit in time. (Click here to read the entire scenario, made bilingual thanks to the translation work of Guillaume Lebrun-Petel of the MLJ.)

What to expect: The game includes 14 problems, though you do not have to solve all 14 to “escape”. They deal primarily with citation rules, international and foreign law research, and legislative research. Search throughout the room – including through Professor Leresponsable’s laptop and personal email – for clues.

How they did: Four groups of three-to-five students were given 35 minutes to escape, and hints were provided along the way. While ultimately none of the groups made it out, a lot of fun was had by all! The closest team was just two questions away from finding the USB!

Are you ready for your turn? That’s right – the escape room is now open to the rest of the Faculty! The game will run 9 more times between September 23rd-October 3rd in room 4020 (see updated escape room schedule here). Sign up as a team* of 3-5 individuals and put your legal research skills to the test! Students and professors alike are invited to participate! A small prize will be awarded to the team that manages to escape in the fastest time. Contact katarina.daniels@mcgill.ca to register.

*you are free to sign up individually, but you will be added to a team.

New mural by Saulteaux First Nations artist Robert Houle on display

The Nahum Gelber Law Library is proud to play host to an incredible mural by Saulteaux First Nations artist Robert Houle (McGill B.Ed. 1975). The recently-restored three-panel mural was installed late last week, right in time for the first day of classes. It is featured prominently on our ground floor, just to the right as you enter the building. Untitled Robert Houle mural on exhibit in Nahum Gelber Law LibraryIt is accompanied by a trilingual wall label, with an English, French, and Ojibwe description of the mural and brief biography of the artist.

Trilingual wall label (Ojibwe, French and English)

Since the release of the 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the library has been bolstering its Aboriginal law collection in order to support our Faculty’s commitment to teaching Indigenous legal traditions. This new installation serves to reinforce our library’s own commitment to improving accessibility to Aboriginal law content as well as to information on residential schools.

Thank you to the Students’ Society of McGill University, the Faculty of Law and to our head librarian, Mtre Daniel Boyer, Ad.E., for their generosity in the restoration of the mural, and thank you to the Visual Arts Collection for loaning us the work.

LégisQuébec – The (In)completeness of an Official Consolidated Law

Earlier this week, a patron called the library asking about the publication procedure for Quebec legislation. He wanted to know whether the consolidated statutes and regulations published by Publications Québec on LégisQuébec were actually consolidated and up to date, and included any amendments soon to come into force. Specifically, he was seeing some inconsistencies with the Consumer Protection Act.

My initial response was affirmative – after all, the consolidated legislation on LégisQuébec includes an update date and has official status. If a bill amending the legislation had been passed prior to the update date, it would be reasonable to expect that the amendments had been integrated somehow into the official consolidated version.

This expectation was reinforced in me in particular as a result of my experience regularly seeing gray boxes with the amended provisions and coming into force information integrated throughout official consolidated legislation.

Consequently, I believed it was in error that the new section 119.1 of the Consumer Protection Act, introduced via section 27 of Bill 134 and set to come into force on August 1st, 2019 (order in council 987-2018), was excluded from the official, consolidated Consumer Protection Act. To that end, I sent an email to Publications Québec, asking them if this was an unintentional error.

Publication Québec’s Approach to Consolidating Laws

The next morning, I received a phone call from a representative of Publications Québec informing me that there was no error on their part. Rather, the absence of 119.1 from the consolidated act was the result of an editorial decision taken by Publications Québec years ago (and which was too complicated to explain in writing, and better explained verbally).

In sum, I was told that despite the signs that led me to believe that the consolidated legislation published on LégisQuébec does integrate amending legislation not yet in force, in fact, Publications Québec does not integrate all amendments brought in by a new law. This is true even if an order in council has been published in the Gazette officielle du Québec proclaiming the coming into force of the various provisions of the amending law. Confusingly, Publications Québec only integrate SOME amendments.

According to the representative from Publications Québec, an amendment will only appear in a gray box if it modifies a provision currently in force and its coming into force date has been published; anything that is entirely new law will not appear in the consolidated law until it actually comes into force. The justification for this editorial decision? (1) To reduce the number of gray boxes that appear throughout the consolidated legislation and improve the readability of legislation. (2) To minimize the risk of integrating amending provisions that would end up never coming into force.

Implications of Publications Québec’s Editorial Decision

According to the representative from Publications Québec, there is no plan to change their editorial process. What this means concretely, is that:

  • When you are looking at a piece of legislation on LégisQuébec, you can never know for sure if tomorrow, that piece of legislation will look entirely different.
  • When you are looking at a piece of legislation on LégisQuébec and you see gray boxes with coming-into-force information, you should not assume that it gives you a complete picture of the law soon to come into force.
  • In order to obtain a complete picture of a law or to be sure that the piece of legislation you are looking at has not been modified by a law soon to come into force, you will have to:
    1. Search for a modifying bill;
    2. Confirm it has received royal assent;
    3. Search Part 2 of the Gazette Officielle du Québec for coming into force information; and
    4. Consolidate, either manually or by using a consolidating tool like this one.

Legal (Library) Tech

Legal technology has never been more in the spotlight than it is now. In 2018, investments in legal technology companies reached US $1 billion. Then, just days into the new year, a new $200 million investment was announced in a single legal tech company, signaling yet another record year for legal tech. Once a field associated with just a handful of “pioneering” legal databases, legal tech is now a glamorous, trendy alternative legal path attracting the best and brightest law students.

So What is Legal Tech, and Why is it Relevant to Libraries?

Legal tech has been defined in a number of texts – academic and nonacademic – with no clear consensus to be found. Definitions range from the extremely narrow to the unhelpfully broad, from the practical to the theoretical. The definition that I like best comes from lawyer Christian Lang, who defines legal tech as “(1) the technology that helps facilitate the practice of law for lawyers and (2) the technology that helps consumers access legal expertise or access justice.” While in some cases technologies may benefit both user groups, so far, the vast majority of legal tech targets one or the other group.

Law librarians in academic, government, courthouse and private law libraries should be paying attention to legal technologies because they are changing the practice of law and giving law librarians greater opportunities to implicate ourselves in the delivery of legal services. In particular, legal tech has been changing the nature of the game when it comes to legal research, document drafting, document management (including contract management, IP management, and eDiscovery), and document review. While law librarians have historically only played a role in the first item listed, increasingly, we are being tasked with knowledge management and project management of legal tech initiatives in other areas of legal service.

Librarians who work in public libraries may also want to follow legal tech companies. With the well-documented problems involving access to justice, citizens often turn to public libraries for assistance related to legal matters. Public library librarians should be aware of the different legal technologies that exist and which may help users with legal problems.

Law and Technology and Applied Innovation

In February of this year, I was given the opportunity to develop and teach an intensive legal tech workshop at McGill’s Faculty of Law. The course, entitled “Law and Technology and Applied Innovation,” was one of six optional courses offered during the Faculty’s Winter Focus Week. My instructions were simply to design the course “in a way that offers more than the usual classroom format”. It was suggested that “the focus be more on hands-on student engagement with exercises designed around real-world challenges”.

Leveraging my role as liaison librarian at the Nahum Gelber Law Library, I contacted select legal research technology companies, asking for demos and access to their platforms. Canadian-founded ROSS Intelligence and Blue J Legal, along with American-based Casetext, answered my call. All three leverage the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in different ways, turning the legal research process on its head. Despite their relative unknown status across the majority of Canadian law schools, I knew that they were key players in the market: ROSS Intelligence already counts the largest global law firms among their clients, Blue J Legal counts the largest Canadian law firms and accounting firms as their clients, while Casetext counts over 35 Am Law Firms among their clients.

Students used the tools to attempt to solve legal questions, and were impressed at just how different the research process looked using these tools. Both ROSS Intelligence, which leverages the power of IBM Watson, as well as Casetext allow for natural language searches as alternatives to traditional Boolean searches, allowing users to ask legal research questions in their own words. Both platforms also allow users to narrow their search results by motion or by a particular set of facts. While ROSS Intelligence requires a user to type in this factual context, Casetext allows users to upload a document that gives context to the search; their AI-powered search engine CARA then reads the document to gain an understanding of the factual scenario, and ranks results that share this contextual background higher in the list of search results. As a competing feature, ROSS Intelligence highlights cases with a “deep match” (where the system is fairly confident the answer to your legal question can be found in that decision) or a “fact match” (cases that share a similar set of facts and deal with the same or similar legal issue). ROSS even provides custom, AI-generated answers to your question through the “generate overview” feature, pulling key sentences from the decision and developing a coherent answer to your legal question in a matter of seconds. In addition, both tools also provide a “find similar language” feature across their content, allowing users to easily find additional authorities on a point of law. Last, both offer document analysis, allowing users to import legal briefs, which the AI reads to verify the treatment of cited cases, ensuring that you or opposing counsel are not citing bad law.

Blue J Legal’s research tools, Tax Foresight, Employment Foresight and HR Foresight, by contrast, are not designed with the traditional search engine format. Rather, they are built modularly to answer specific questions, with predictive AI at their core. Users select a specific legal issue, and use one of three tools available to assist with their research: a classifier, which, after a user completes a brief questionnaire, predicts how a court would rule in a particular matter; a case finder, which retrieves cases sharing a similar fact pattern; or a navigator, which is essentially a built-out decision-tree. A machine-learning built memorandum is also produced following the use of the classifier, justifying the prediction based on the facts of the file. Unlike the other two tools, Blue J Legal uses human (lawyer)-powered tagging to avoid errors in the dataset, and will only produce a classifier if it can predict future decisions with at least 90 per cent accuracy.

Access to Justice, Changes in the Legal Profession

Interacting with these and other tools, students were invited to consider how legal tech is changing the way law is being practiced, and how technology might prove to be useful tools in increasing access to justice.

Increased efficiency and decreased research costs were recognized as significant benefits, which could translate into increased access to the legal system. However, concerns were raised about the quality of research results using an AI-search, particularly at this early stage in the development of AI research tools. The risk of a two-tiered legal system, whereby people who could not afford lawyer fees would put all their trust in the research capabilities of – essentially – a robot, potentially putting them at a disadvantage compared to individuals who can afford to pay lawyer fees, was also raised.

While students were excited about just how streamlined the research process could be, they were also concerned about loss of essential research skills among a new generation of lawyers. In particular, these research tools are all geared towards finding “the needle in the haystack,” arguably eliminating the need for lawyers to first gain an understanding about the area of law in which they are working.

Last, privacy concerns were mentioned, particularly with regards to tools like Casetext’s CARA, where documents containing sensitive information. As document analyzers become more common in AI research tools, privacy concerns will necessarily rise.

As legal tech continues to change the way law is practiced, law libraries will necessarily need to adapt. The Nahum Gelber Law Library is continuously on the lookout for new, innovative legal research tools, and is scanning the legal market to see what is being used by practicing lawyers, all to ensure that our students have the right tools to prepare them for life after law school.

Interested in legal tech and its implications? Click here to read some of the blog posts written by McGill Law students for the Law and Technology and Applied Innovation course, which were published by the Blogue du CRL of the Young Bar of Montreal.