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.

 

New Database: Oxford International Organizations

Oxford International Organizations is first database for analyzing and understanding key documents of international organizations. Each document is accompanied by a concise expert commentary. In order to capture the full bearing of international organizations on various substantive areas of international law as well as on the field of international institutional law in particular, the database includes, but is not limited to, resolutions and decisions of organizations, draft normative texts prepared within the framework of organizations, and constituent instruments of organizations. It also contains court decisions relevant for the institutional law of organizations as well as, occasionally, a treaty to which an organization is a party, where this brings light to issues of institutional law. In this resource the term “international organization” is understood as an intergovernmental organization established between states or other international legal actors by a treaty or other instrument possessing at least some permanence of structure, thus excluding NGOs from its scope.

New HeinOnline Collections

As of now, the library offers McGill community the access to five new HeinOnline collections:

  • Immigration Law & Policy in the U.S., a monumental collection, a compilation of the most important historical documents and legislation related to immigration in the United States as well as current hearings, debates and recent developments in immigration law. This first comprehensive database includes BIA Precedent Decisions, legislative histories, law and policy titles, extradition titles, scholarly articles, an extensive bibliography, and other related works.
  • Animal Studies: Law, Welfare and Rights includes titles from the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Animal Welfare Institute and aims to establish the foundational laws pertaining to animals and follow the evolution of these rights throughout the years. It includes philosophical books dating back to the 1800s, videos, periodicals, brochures, and more.
  • Law in Eastern Europe, a collection of books, published by Brill, of more than 60 titles that showcases the development, enactment, and impact of the rule of law in Eastern Europe.
  • Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law Publications: more than 60 publications from this prestigious school, such as the 22-volume set, A Bibliography on Foreign and Comparative Law. Book and Articles in English by Charles Szladits, along with An Introduction to the Legal System of the United States by E. Allan Farnsworth, among various others.
  • Religion and the Law, hundreds of unique titles and nearly one million pages, including books, periodicals, and bibliographies. This collection provides a research platform for the development, history, organization, and fundamental principles of various world religions. The collection also includes the Christian Legal Society publications, an assortment of Canon Law, and rare historical bibles.

We hope you will find them relevant and useful for your teaching, research, and writing.

 

Do Not Fall into a Trap: Predatory Publishing 101

The expression “predatory academic publishing” may sound as an oxymoron to a person unaware of the phenomenon. However, it is real, it is here, and it is hurting the most innocent and vulnerable members of academia: postdocs, doctoral students, and young pre-tenured faculty.

Dealing with predatory publishers can at the best lead to monetary losses, long-lasting embarrassment because of being fooled, and the forever exclusion of item from the list of publications (If all of this can be called “the best.” As a doctoral candidate myself, I can vividly imagine the frustration of somebody who would publish a book reporting five or six years of research only not to mention it on the CV). At the worst, especially if the unlucky author signs away the moral rights to the work, it can irremediably tarnish an academic reputation, undermine credibility of the research, and affect the decisions of hiring and tenure committees and granting agencies.The reality of the current highly competitive and overcrowded scholarly marketplace is such that this worst-case scenario is getting frighteningly possible, and Mary Bennet’s well-known moralising about female virtue could be easily applied to an academic reputation. Paraphrasing Jane Austen, the loss of reputation in an academic is irretrievable; one false step involves him/her in endless ruin; his/her reputation is no less brittle than it is beautiful; and he/she cannot be too much guarded in the behaviour towards the undeserving representatives of the publishing industry.

The ink has been flowing for a while with hundreds of pieces already penned on the subject, so why would I need to write another one? What I would like to accomplish with this blog post is to offer some simple and practical advice, some sort of “Predatory Publishing 101,” that should help to instantly weed out most of potentially harmful offers and to provide resources to learn more on the subject. A recent conversation with one of McGill graduate students prompted me to write this post. He /she came to talk to me all elated and excited to share great news. The student got an email from a publisher who offered to publish a book based on a yet unfinished and undefended thesis. To me, acquainted with the practices of predatory academic publishers, this sounded only all too familiar. The ubiquitous name of the publisher confirmed my worst suspicions. It was a well known vanity press, publishing with which would leave a stain on an academic reputation. My immediate advice to the student was to never answer that email, to never publish anything with them, and the most important to always be on guard and seek more information if he/she gets a publishing offer from an unfamiliar source. I felt sorry to break it to the student, but (to say it without a false modesty) this student got lucky. Before subscribing to a publishing deal that could in a long-term harm the academic career, the person benefited from an advice from an information professional who knows what kind of jungle is the modern academic publishing, and where most of its pitfalls and traps are.

To avoid falling into a predatory publishing trap, if you get a publishing/conference presentation offer from an unfamiliar source, get a second opinion, talk to an information professional/librarian, check resources available for you (see below), Google the publisher’s name, and do a search on Twitter to find information about them. If after a bit of research, you can say “yes” to most of the following, you need to be extra careful and seriously consider rejecting or, even better, not replying to the offer:

  1. It is not specified in their email where they got the information about your research: your recent conference presentation, your thesis supervisor, your colleague, etc.
  2. You are not a member of their “scholarly” society and never subscribed to their listserv.
  3. They mention on the website that they may charge their authors some “modest” editing/printing/book production fees.
  4. They do not mention or are vague about peer or editorial review process on their website.
  5. There is information raising suspicions on the web (lawsuits aiming to take them off the lists of vanity/predatory presses, disclaimers that they are not a vanity or predatory publisher/journal, tweets and blog posts from frustrated scholars describing dishonest dealings and swindling of the money).
  6. Their name looks very similar but is not exactly the same as a name of a respectable publishing house, a well-known academic institution, or a reputable journal.
  7. The contract they ask you to sign stipulates that you will relinquish not only the copyright to your work but also the moral rights.

This list is far from being complete, but it should give you a good start. To know more on the subject and to protect yourself from the mistakes with the long-lasting consequences, you can check the following sources:

Good luck with your research and publications!

 

Provincial Statutes of Canada in HeinOnline

The Provincial Statutes of Canada are now available in HeinOnline. The Provincial Statutes of Canada contain public and private acts passed by Canadian provincial governments for all ten Canadian provinces:

  • Nearly 100 titles
  • Nearly 1,500 volumes
  • More than 850,000 pages

Within the collection there is a map of Canada. Select a province using the map view or the browse options to see the available content for each province: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.

The content coverage varies by province as follows:

Current, Revised and Historical Coverage:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • New Brunswick
  • Nova Scotia
  • Ontario

Revised and Historical Statutes only (published outside of Crown Copyright):

  • Manitoba
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan

 

AZIMUT / SOQUIJ: “Le roi est mort, vive le roi!”

À partir du 22 août les professeurs et les étudiants en droit inscrits au programme d’accès gratuit aux services de SOQUIJ, n’auront plus accès au service Juris.doc (AZIMUT). La Recherche juridique est dorénavant le seul moteur de recherche de jurisprudence et de doctrine offert dans le Portail SOQUIJ dans le cadre du programme.

Do not forget to note up your cases!

This admonition has been heard by countless law-students while they were initiated into the intricacies of legal research. But what is “to note up”? – a bewildered first-year law student may ask.

To note up is to look up the case’s history and to find if it was judicially considered in other cases. In the pre-internet time, law clerks and law librarians used to write the subsequent history of the cases on the margins of case reporters; thus, “noting up” the pages with references to the subsequent decisions. This is an example of an old noted up reporter from the Sir James Dunn Law Library (Halifax, NS). note up

We can trace back references to the practice of “noting up” to at least the 19th century, when The Law Times provided practitioners with “Notes for Noting Up,” and when proposals for legal textbooks included binding in a number of blank leaves specifically for noting up so that the textbooks could contain the latest law: “A member has suggested that the first text-book of the Society should be one which shall comprise the entire Practice of Law [….] It is further proposed that the volumes should be bound with blank leaves for noting up, and that in any digest of the Society a figure should refer to the page in the text-book in which the case or statute digested ought to be noted, so that the volumes should always keep pace with the existing law until a new edition is rendered necessary by the number of references” (Verulam Society, (1844) 3 The Law Times 275).

This post is derived from a discussion at the Canadian Association of Law Libraries listserv. Many thanks in particular to Lynne McNeill, Nikki Tanner, and Katie Albright for sharing their knowledge and to Natalie Wing to summarising the information for the benefit of CALL memebrs and for her kind permission to use it.

New United Nations iLibrary

United Nations Publications has recently launched the United Nations iLibrary, the first comprehensive global search, discovery, and dissemination platform for digital content created by the United Nations. It includes publications on international peace and security, human rights, economic and social development, climate change, international law, governance, public health, and statistics. In future releases, the platform will also provide access to other resources such as working papers series and statistical databases.

At present, United Nations iLibrary comprises 750 titles in English, and 250 in other official languages of the United Nations: French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic. This initial scope covers most of the content published between 2013 and 2015. Some 3,000 more titles published between 2010 and 2015are expected to be available by the end of 2016. The content of the United Nations iLibrary will be regularly updated with approximately 500 new titles published every year on the key topics reflecting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations.

You can access it via Law subject guide> Foreign and International legislation and cases> Foreign & international

SOQUIJ, Quicklaw, & Westlaw trainings

The Nahum Gelber Law Library is pleased to be able to offer again  the database training by legal publishers to McGill Law students. The sessions will take place in the Law Library Computer Classroom (main floor of the library).

  • SOQUIJ
    Wednesday, January 27, 13-14:30
  • WestlawNext Canada (Carswell)
    Monday, February 1, 13-14:30h
  • QuickLaw (LexiNexis)
    Friday, February 5, 13-14:30h

Sign-up sheets are available in the Law Library Computer Classroom.

New E-Books Collection: Oxford Scholarly Authorities on International Law

Law Library has just acquired access to the new International Law collection, Oxford Scholarly Authorities on International Law. This collection of ebooks:

  • Provides full text access to leading works such as Oppenheim’s International Law, Simma’s Commentary on the UN Charter, and Crawford’s Creation of States in International Law
  • Includes all titles in the Oxford Commentaries on International Law series, and the  Oxford International Law Library series
  • Content can be browsed by author, title, subject, and by the cases and instruments cited by books included in the site
  • Gives access the  Oxford Law Citator for links to cases, articles, and additional materials related to each article
  • Available on the Oxford Public International Law platform, enabling users to cross-search OSAIL with Oxfords list of public international law resources Oxford Reports on International Law, the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law and Oxford Historical Treaties