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 “Well-being Collection” at the Law Library

In 2016, we started a “de-stress zone” at the Law Library, where we provide puzzles for students to help them relax. This initiative has been very successful with a great majority of our students. A few weeks ago, we received a suggestion by some law students to add some reading material to this area: “to read things other than cases and doctrine”.

With this in mind, we decided to offer a small collection of titles that students can use to balance their school/well-being life. Books on time management, cooking for college students, coping with stress and tools for succeeding at Law School are now available. Take a look at this new section on the main floor, next to the puzzle corner. All the books are on regular loan so take advantage of it, and check out a book to relax a bit.

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 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.

Law Library Opening Hours, Fall 2017

From September 5th to October 14th, the Law Library is open for study:

  • Monday–Friday 9:00 am – 11:00 pm
  • Saturday & Sunday 10:00 am – 11:00 pm

Please note that our service desk hours have changed. They are now: Monday – Friday 09:00 am – 6:00 pm and no service on weekends. This means that the books borrowed from the Law Library’s course reserve on Friday after 3:00 pm have to be returned only on Monday before 10:00 am.

Remember that a valid McGill ID card is required for access to the Library after service hours. The full opening and service hours for the Fall term are posted at the Law Library’s webpage:

http://www.mcgill.ca/library/branches/law

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.

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!