New Exhibition: The Unfinished Path to Reconciliation

“Reconciliation is not an Indigenous problem – it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us,” said Justice Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which was tasked with investigating and commemorating the residential school system.

As Justice Sinclair and many others have said, education is key to reconciliation. As institutions that are both repositories for knowledge and natural gathering places, libraries can play an important role in reconciliation. With this goal, the Nahum Gelber Law Library offers to its visitors a new exhibition: The Unfinished Path to Reconciliation.

 

The blended-media exhibition features primary documents, books, reproductions of archival documents and memorabilia and highlight important cases on native’s rights. The exhibition includes digital materials presented on an interactive touch-table.

The use of touch-table for this Law Library exhibition is a part of the McGill Library Innovation in Service project. The exhibition was curated by Sonia Smith.

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 Exhibition: Nahum Gelber Law Library: 20 Years

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the current home of the McGill Law Library. This spectacular building named after one of our alumni and generous donor, Nahum Gelber, opened its doors for students 20 years ago, in September 1998.

To celebrate this occasion, we offer to our visitors a new exhibition featuring original plans, documents, students’ survey from 1997 on what they wanted to see in the new library, and a maquette of our famous staircase.

The exhibition was curated by Svetlana Kochkina and Sonia Smith.

 

New Exhibition: Hommage à Paul-André Crépeau.

To honour the life and work of the late Professor Paul-André Crépeau (1926-2011) and to commemorate a generous donation of his research archives and private library to McGill University, the Nahum Gelber Law Library opens a new exhibition: Hommage à Paul-André Crépeau.

“Professor Crépeau was one of Canada’s greatest humanists. His penetrating intellect, the depth of his intellectual cultivation, his extraordinary knowledge of Civil Law, his boundless energy, his sound judgement, and his great tact and discretion, all explain why he became a model for several generations of legal scholars and practitioners. Thousands of students cherish life-long memories of their time with Professor Crépeau, as he invited them to immerse themselves in the millennial tradition of the Civil Law as well as its modern and particular expression in Quebec. He remained vibrant with his passion for the law, which he transmitted with so much enthusiasm to his students and colleagues, right to the end of a life devoted to teaching, research, and public service.”

Read the full obituary by former Dean of the Faculty of Law, Daniel Jutras, here:

New Technology in the Law Library

Thanks to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Library Improvement Fund, the Law Library has just received three media collaboration screens and two charging stations for mobile devices!

The screens offer new opportunities for viewing, processing, and sharing information between students working on the same group project, presentation, or paper. To connect your laptop or mobile device to the screen, you need to follow the instructions (print instruction on the wall or on the screen itself). You can also watch this Youtube video on how to connect your devices to the screens. The screens are located in three group study rooms that McGill Law students may book at the Loans desk.

The charging stations are currently being installed on the ground floor of the law Library.

Building Canada: One Law at a Time. New Exhibition at the Law Library

2017 marks the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, when the British North America Act of 1867 created the Dominion of Canada by unifying the colonies of Province of Canada (Upper and Lower Canada that will later become Ontario and Quebec), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. 

Commemorating the jubilee, the Law Library offers to its visitors a new exhibition, Building Canada: One Law at a Time. The blended-media exhibition highlights statutes and other legislative acts and agreements marking important dates and watershed moments in the process of building the country: creation of the Confederation, process of joining the Confederation by provinces and territories, the relationship with Canadian First Nations, the Constitution, and an official adoption of Canadian national symbols.

The material part of the exhibition features primary documents, books, reproductions of archival documents, and memorabilia.

The exhibition expands into a digital realm paying specific attention to the history of First Nations in Canada and showcasing reproductions of archival documents, photographs, testimonies of the survivors of residential schools, and video materials presented on the digital touch table.


The use of touch-table for this Law Library exhibition is a part of the McGill Library Innovation in Service project. The exhibition was curated by Svetlana Kochkina and Sonia Smith.

Book Restored in Honour of Professor Margaret Somerville

In honour of Professor Somerville’s work and achievements, the Faculty of Law of McGill University has restored the 1773 edition of An Interesting Appendix to Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. This volume is part of the Rare Book collection of the Nahum Gelber Law Library, and its record will carry in perpetuity a notice in tribute to Professor Somerville on behalf of McGill University.img_0014

An interesting appendix to Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the laws of England. Philadelphia: Printed for the subscribers, by Robert Bell, 1773. This book is a collection of correspondence between William Blackstone, Joseph Priestley, and Philip Furneaux published as a reaction to the fourth volume of his Commentaries on the Laws of England, where Blackstone argued in support the suspension of legal penalties against nonconformists, and that essentially nonconformity remained a crime. The correspondence powerfully reveals and illustrates the philosophical, religious, and ethical tensions in the 18th century England. Priestley criticised Blackstone’s positions in the Commentaries relative to offences against the doctrine of the Established Church, while Furneaux in his letters on his Exposition of the Toleration Act offered powerful statement moral arguments against enforcing religious truths by civil penalties. After this public exchange of opinions, Blackstone made alterations to the subsequent editions of his Commentaries: he rephrased some offending passages, moderated his language in others, and corrected the errors and inaccuracies that had been pointed out by his correspondents.

img_0015Joseph Priestley (1733 – 1804) was English clergyman, political theorist, and physical scientist whose work contributed to advances in liberal political and religious thought and in experimental chemistry. He is best remembered today for his contribution to the chemistry of gases, while during his time day he was known also as a vigorous advocate of unitarianism and of liberal reform of government, education, and theology. Philip Furneaux (1726–1783) was an English independent minister, known for his work on behalf of the rights of nonconformists.

Five Puzzles and Counting

Having attended some presentations at conferences about the stress and mental health of university students, we decided on a new initiative at the Law Library. This fall semester we created a de-stress corner.

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Our first puzzle of 500 pieces was done in a week! We are posting the finished puzzle images on the Law Library FaceBook page, where it has created a lot of interest.

We are already on our fifth puzzle and students are loving it! Some students shared with us their questions and comments:

  • Where do you get this puzzles from?
  • The nice staff at the Gelber Law Library brings these from home or go to a thrift shop to buy these.
  • What do you do with them after these are done? Do you frame these?
  • We don’t frame the puzzles. We put them back in their boxes. We are also sharing the puzzles with an older man in his 80’s that lives in an Old Age Home Residence who loves to do puzzles and exercise his brain.

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Comments:

  • “I’m a puzzle person and it is such a good idea to have this at the Library. This last puzzle is difficult and fun!”
  • I spent an hour doing the sky and I enjoyed it very much!
  • This is becoming a social activity and bringing us to the Library. Thank you for doing this!

Our new puzzle has 1000 pieces. We all enjoyed seeing students working at it, and taking a well-deserved few minutes break from their studies.

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Nuremberg Trials Exhibition Goes Digital

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New digital materials have been added to the Law Library exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the International Military Tribunal, the most known and the most important of the Nuremberg Trials. The exhibition includes now digital materials presented on an interactive touch-table.

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It features archival footage, photo documents, testimonies of the survivors of concentration camps, reproductions of archival documents, and visual materials illustrating Nazi crimes during the Second World War in Europe and the International Military Tribunal itself. You can browse through scanned documents, watch footage taken at the trials, and search through the collections of documents from the Harvard Law School Nuremberg Trials project, United States Holocaust Museum, and many others.

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The use of touch-table for this Law Library exhibition is a part of the McGill Library Innovation in Service project. The exhibition was curated by Svetlana Kochkina and Sonia Smith.

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