La bibliothèque tient à remercier le Fonds Wainwright pour sa contribution à l’achat de deux accès simultanés à la Bibliothèque numérique Dalloz.
Given the importance of Civil Law research at McGill’s Faculty of Law, we determined that had to make more digital legal materials from France available to our users. This was particularly pressing given the impact of the global pandemic on access to our physical print collections. Access to these digital materials therefore comes at a critical time for our community.
La Bibliothèque numérique Dalloz donne accès à 1 500 ouvrages, incluant les Codes Dalloz, Dalloz action, Lexiques, Précis Dalloz, les manuels universitaires, les ouvrages de révision, et bien plus, en version feuilletable. Cet accès est disponible depuis le 1er janvier 2021.
To access the Bibliothèque numérique Dalloz, please visit the Dalloz database from our French Law subject guide, here. Then, scroll down on the landing page and select either Ouvrages or, under “À feuilleter,” Dalloz Bibliothèque.
After 38 years working in the McGill Library system, our colleague Anne Avery will be retiring at the end of the year. Anne came to the Gelber as a library assistant in October 2006 from the McLennan Library, and has been a pillar of our library ever since. Members of the McGill Law community will remember Anne as a friendly face at our circulation desk, always ready to help out, whether it be to check out a book on reserve or pick up a hold, navigate our catalogues, guide patrons around the library, solve a uPrint problem, or figure out how to work the microfilm reader, though of course Anne’s duties and impact on users extends far beyond circulation.
Before leaving, Anne was kind enough to sit down for a brief interview to talk about her experience working at McGill, and to share some fond memories about her time here. The following are summaries of Anne’s answers.
Career trajectory within the McGill Library system Anne was first hired as a casual library employee in October 1981, working on the 6th floor of the McLennan Library, filing acquisition records. At the time, acquisition slips were printing in multiple copies. We’re not talking duplicate or triplicate here… more like upwards of 6 copies per acquisition! This was a one-month contract, after which Anne was hired to type updated subject headings on catalogue cards following Library of Congress Subject Headings. This required a “special typewriter with very small keys” (since you couldn’t adjust font size otherwise)! This job was also out of the 6th floor of McLennan. That position was abolished in July 1982, but just over half a year later, Anne was back, this time working in acquisitions at the Medical Library. In May 1983, Anne became a permanent employee.
In September 1984, Anne moved into a public-facing position in the Library School Library, then located on the ground floor of McLennan. This was a sessional job that followed the academic calendar. Anne worked at that branch for 4 years, before taking a one-year educational leave. When she returned in September 1989, Anne moved onto the Redpath Reserves. This is when computers were first introduced on the service side of the library, and when Anne started working with them!
In September 1991, Anne headed back to the Library School Library, which she managed for 3 years. With that branch library set to close, Anne then moved to the Microfilm service, a public-facing service located on the 2nd floor of McLennan. It is there that she first worked with the Gelber’s current supervisor, Elizabeth Gibson, who supervised the Microfilm service. An extremely popular service at the time, it was open 7 days a week, and during evenings. “That department was a gem source of information and included print newspapers and current serials, of course,” notes Anne. According to Anne, this was where she met the greatest variety of people.
In October 2006, Anne finally moved to the Gelber Library. At the time, the branch was also open evenings and weekends, and was “bursting with staff,” as this was before a lot of centralization of library services. Despite the many changes to the library system that occurred since Anne’s arrival at the Gelber, Anne stayed on at the Gelber for just over 14 years.
Upon reflecting on her 7 positions in the McGill Library system, Anne remarked: “It’s great to move around and meet different people!”
In another life, another career path? Who would have known that Anne worked as a surgical nurse in a veterinary hospital immediately prior to arriving at McGill in 1981? A lover of animals, Anne’s allergies contributed in part to her career change.
Our world traveler And did you know that Anne has lived in 5 countries, and 3 cities in Canada (Vancouver, Thunder Bay, and Montreal)? In 1982, when Anne’s position was terminated, Anne and her husband benefitted from the extra time to go to France for les vendages, the grape harvest, an opportunity that her husband had heard of with l’Association Québec-France: “We were assigned to the champagne region near Reims on a family vineyard for 12 memorable days. We remained 4 months, following a theme of historical locations, living cheap, traveling by train, regional bus and ship, visiting many locations in France, zig zagging south through autumn, moving on to Florence and Venice, then Greece, and celebrating Christmas in Crete and New Year’s in Rhodes.”
While Montreal has been home for the past 31 years, Anne still calls the European cities she lived in “home” when she goes back to visit. Her favourite travel destination? “They’re all my favourite when I get there!”
Fun facts about the McGill Library, 80s edition & Anne’s career trajectory To work in the library when Anne first started, one had to first pass a typing test. Now, we won’t mention how Anne did on the test, but Anne did want to give a little shout-out to human resources for helping her overcome that little speed bump!
When Anne started working at McGill, access to the McLennan library was limited to graduate students and the employees working there, with undergraduate students studying in Redpath instead. Consequently, a guard was stationed at the bottom of the McLennan stairs to confirm IDs! There were 25 library branches at the time, compared to the 11 we currently have. While students were not permitted to smoke in the library, library staff with individual offices could smoke in them.
Checking out a book? Some of us might remember the old index cards that we used to check out books on in elementary school, but in the 80s, McGill’s system was a little more sophisticated than that! Circulation staff would instead check out books using manual sliding card machines – like the ones used for credit cards!
Prior to coming to the Gelber, Anne worked with two individuals who would later become law library directors: Michael Renshawe and Bob Clark. By the time Anne moved to the Gelber, however, they had already left. Upon arriving at the Gelber, Anne reconnected with a former student who had attended library school when Anne ran the Library School Library: the current Head of the Gelber, Daniel Boyer! A helpful tip to anyone in the library system at McGill, considering the amount of internal movement here, but also really great advice for anyone in or entering the workforce: “McGill is a community; your working life will interweave with many individuals over the years so make the most of positive contacts and create a network of supportive connections.”
Library trends over time From card catalogues to our newest catalogue that allows us to see not only our own holdings and availability of texts at McGill, but holdings in hundreds of thousands of libraries across the world, as well as availability of texts through the Quebec university library system “technology has changed things so amazingly,” says Anne. “It’s a huge difference,” Anne notes, laughing, when I ask her what surprises her the most about how library patrons use the library now versus in the 80s.
How librarians provide services has also changed. Before the explosion of databases, reference used to “all be in the librarians’ heads,” and if anything escaped them, they would consult index cards kept on reference desks. Now, a liaison librarian’s primary duty is to know how to find things in a database, and of course, know what database to use!
Funny stories involving law faculty I was hoping for a good Overheard for the Quid Novi, but Anne is all class ‘til the end! She notes that she enjoyed getting to know law staff and faculty alike. One fun thing that happened as a result of chatting with a law professor at the desk was that she was able to get some family papers translated from Swedish!
Anne also recently went through the Rare Books collection and found a number of gems there, including a book by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll. She notes that the annuals in our collection are fantastic resources for “history buffs” interested in social history, thanks to the ads that precede and follow the main text.
Fondest memories working in the libraries The chair of our social committee, Anne notes that what she’ll miss most is the camaraderie she shared with colleagues – with a special shout-out to our famous Gelber birthday parties – and socialising with patrons over the desk. Having had worked in 6 other library positions, Anne notes that it “really made a difference working in a satellite library.” Working at the Gelber, Anne had a variety of work, and also got to meet “people from all over.”
Throughout the years, Anne has been particularly impressed with the opportunities that our students have taken for study and work abroad. She pointed out in particular the students that have gone on to work with NGOs and in human rights advocacy.
Final farewell message to students “Seize opportunities for personal enrichment… and go to all the library teaching seminars! You’ll need it!”
This blog post has been adapted from our recent From the Gelber columns in the Quid Novi.
Edit: this blog post was edited on October 26th, 2020, to include the reactivation of our article/ chapter scan service, and on November 26th, to update our study hub hours and add book return information.
While heading back to school in the middle of a pandemic certainly comes with its challenges, the library worked hard throughout the summer (and continues to work hard!) to try and make the transition to a remote environment a little easier. Here is a summary of key services and resources available to McGill Law faculty, staff, and students:
Electronic course reserves
Since we knew there would be no physical course reserves available in the library during the pandemic, we worked with professors and with legal publishers to try and ensure that the vast majority of required course readings would be available electronically for free through the library. This table summarises where you can try finding key texts through library resources:
Les étudiant.e.s et les membres de la Faculté de droit profitent des accès additionnels à quelques bases de données juridiques, notamment SOQUIJ, le CAIJ, et des produits Thomson Reuters, dont Practical Law Canada. Ceci dit, vous devez tout d’abord compléter un formulaire de consentement pour y avoir accès. Contactez la bibliothèque pour plus de détails.
Library pickup service (to borrow physical library books)
Titles not available in electronic format can be borrowed via our library pickup service. Items are retrieved by our library assistants, put into paper bags and quarantined, and are then made available via a contactless pickup. Users will first need to locate the book in our catalogue, and take note of the call number. Details can be found here.
Interlibrary loan (including borrowing books checked out at McGill but available at another Quebec university)
Interlibrary loan (ILL) – the ability to borrow titles not available in McGill’s collection – is now available both for articles and physical books. Physical books will be made available via the library pickup. McGill users can put in an ILL request as usual through Colombo directly or via the ILL request link within the catalogue.
In addition, if a user notices that the McGill copy of a physical text is currently checked out, we have no electronic version, and there is a physical copy of the same text available at another Quebec university library, the user can now make an interlibrary loan request to have the copy from another Quebec university library sent to McGill. Currently, this should be done through the regular ILL request. This is made possible through a new agreement with the other Quebec university libraries.
De plus, les étudiant.e.s qui ont activé leurs comptes CAIJ peuvent bénéficier de leur service de repérage documentaire pour les articles disponibles dans leur collection. Ce service est normalement payant (5 $ par document), mais compte tenu de la COVID, il est gratuit jusqu’à la fin mars 2021.
Students looking for study space in the library can book a spot up to one hour in advance, via the library website. The Gelber is open Monday to Friday, from 9:00am-12:00pm and from 1:30pm-4:30pm. Note that no other library service will be available at the study hub other than access to the photocopiers/scanners/ printers and pick-ups of previously requested books.
Books can be returned to the book drop just inside the entrance at the Law Library Monday to Friday from 9:00am until 4:30pm.
Books can be placed in the returns bin on the street level at the McLennan Library Building 3459 McTavish Street at any time.
Today we rediscovered Lite Newsletter, a newsletter published between 1968-1974 by the Office of the Judge Advocate General of the United States Air Force. After it was found, we decided that it was too rare of an item to keep in our regular journal collection, and so moved it into our rare book collection to ensure preservation (McGill owns volumes from 1970-1974). The content was so unique and interesting, we thought we would share a little bit about the newsletter and its contents!
Lite Newsletter was a newsletter dedicated to sharing news about the LITE System, a computerized information retrieval system for legal research that was developed by the Air Force and which provided search service to government agencies in the United States. LITE, which stands for Legal Information Thru Electronics, seems to have been a game changer in legal research in the Department of Defense in particular, saving “countless hours of manual research”. Run by a staff of attorneys, LITE was meant to help lawyers deal with the “information explosion” of the time. The LITE attorneys were trained in building effective queries for the LITE system to run. Based on descriptions of the search functions, it looks like LITE attorneys were essentially researchers who were particular adept at using Boolean and proximity operators (!).
LITE included many databases, including the United States Code, decisions of various boards and tribunals, published and unpublished international law agreements, and extensive regulatory material. The LITE Newsletter would keep government lawyers up to date with new additions to the databases, interesting and common LITE searches, and more. Eventually, a library was built with these searches, to save “computational time” on urgent requests that effectively repeated a previously completed search.
In one issue of the newsletter, a list of potential explanations for not using LITE were enumerated. Particularly entertaining reasons included:
2. Dreamed of the possibility of computerized research, but didn’t know that it was feasible.
9. Didn’t realize the breadth and depth of a computer-produced research report. Didn’t realize that some problems which may have been impossible to research manually can now be researched by the computer.
12. Does not trust any kind of research prepared by a machine.
Other explanations might resonate with fellow librarians today:
5. Was afraid, or at least nervous asking for information on the system.
6. Didn’t believe that LITE data bases were relevant to the user’s problems, however, didn’t bother to inquire.
7. Satisfied with manual research techniques.
One issue of the newsletter also goes into the importance of using computers for research: “The computer is the only tool of technology that can store, manipulate and retrieve data of any kind in many different and general ways […] It is the most powerful tool ever available to man and to society.”
It is interesting to note how far we have come with computer-assisted research, and yet sometimes, our struggles remain the same. “Information explosion” is now known as “information overload,” and is one of the most significant challenges of the Digital Age. People may now be comfortable with researching using traditional databases, but when artificial intelligence is thrown into the mix – for instance, with new document analyzers – there is increasing skepticism. Finally, students continue to struggle with library anxiety, and librarians continue to put significant efforts into library outreach.
The LITE Newsletter is available by consultation only, Mondays to Fridays, from 9am-5pm.
The Nahum Gelber Law Library is proud to announce the launch of two new databases, Practical Law Canada and Lexis Practice Advisor, as well as the signing of an agreement between the CAIJ and McGill University, granting CAIJ memberships to students, librarians, support staff and professors of the McGill Faculty of Law.
Access to Practical Law Canada and membership to the CAIJ are restricted to the Faculty of Law only; a consent form, available at the circulation desk or by emailing email@example.com, must first be completed. Access to Lexis Practice Advisor is available to the entire McGill community.
Practical Law Canada
Practical Law Canada (PLC) is a research tool that provides a variety of practical resources to help lawyers get their work done more efficiently. Practice notes, which provide guidelines and explanations of current law and practice, precedents with detailed drafting notes, and checklists, timelines and flowcharts, are created and maintained by a team of expert lawyers, who ensure that their material reflects current practice. The practice areas covered are:
– Capital Markets & Securities
– Commercial Real Estate
– Commercial Transactions
– Corporate and M&A
– Litigation (Corporate & Commercial)
In addition, PLC offers a provincial comparison tool, allowing users to compare laws and requirements in a particular area of law, across the country. Last, their product What’s Market allows you to easily analyse and compare terms or features across publicly filed deals.
Lexis Practice Advisor is another practitioner-oriented research tool. Similar to PLC, the platform also features practice notes, precedents with detailed drafting notes, checklists and flowcharts, as well as forms and articles, all maintained by a team of expert lawyers. The practice areas covered are:
– Capital Markets and M&A
– Corporate and Private M&A
– Family Law (BC and Ontario only)
– Insolvency & Restructuring
– In-House Counsel
– Intellectual Property & Technology
– Litigation & Dispute Resolution
– Personal Injury (BC and Ontario only)
– Wills, Trusts & Estates (BC and Ontario only)
While the content is primarily Canadian, some international, US, UK, and EU content is also available.
Training on Lexis Practice Advisor will be offered during the course of the semester.
Le CAIJ met à votre disposition des ressources couvrant l’ensemble des champs de la pratique juridique. Vous retrouverez notamment du contenu et des outils afin d’appuyer vos études et recherches, notamment :
– Jurisprudence québécoise et canadienne.
– Lois des juridictions canadiennes.
– De la doctrine à valeur ajoutée et développée au CAIJ, telle que :
*une banque de question de recherche documentées (TOPO) comprenant plus de 5000 questions pour vous aider à commencer une recherche;
*des dossiers spéciaux sur des sujets d’actualité qui rassemblent toute l’information pertinente pouvant vous aiguiller dans vos recherches
*plus de 100 lois annotées pancanadiennes incluant les annotations d’ouvrages comme les AlterEgo de Wilson & Lafleur, le Code civil annoté de Baudouin-Renaud, etc.
*un accès exclusif à la Collection de droit de l’École du Barreau.
– Des banques de données accessibles à distance telles que : dèsLibris (Irwin Law’s e-library), LexBase, et bien plus encore.
Bénéficiez également du soutien personnalisé d’une équipe de recherchistes-formateurs qualifiés pour vous accompagner dans vos recherches en mode clavardage, de 8 h à 20 h du lundi au jeudi et de 8 h à 17 h le vendredi.
Finalement, Mon CAIJ, l’espace de travail personnalisé et confidentiel, vous offre des fonctionnalités adaptées à votre pratique, notamment :
– Sauvegarde de vos requêtes de recherche, de sources et d’archivage
– Alertes personnalisées associées à vos requêtes
– Prêt, réservation et/ou livraison de documents (des frais peuvent s’appliquer)
Thanks to the generous support of the Law Students Association (LSA), we now have 4 brand new carrels available for library patrons. The carrels are located on the 3rd and 4th floors of the Nahum Gelber Law Library, facing the south windows that overlook Old Chancellor Day Hall and the front lawn of the Law Faculty. Each carrel features a regular power outlet as well as two USB charging ports. Privacy dividers separate two adjacent seats.
The library would particularly like to thank Marie Pilote, the 2018-2019 VP External of the LSA, and Diane Koen, Senior Director, Planning and Resources at the McGill Library, for their efforts in bringing this project to fruition!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
*you are free to sign up individually, but you will be added to a team.
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. It is accompanied by a trilingual wall label, with an English, French, and Ojibwe description of the mural and brief biography of the artist.
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.
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.
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:
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.