Roger writing the LAWmag

Law Reports Rest In Peace

Drip, Drip, Drip

One by one, the courts world over are publishing their judgments online.

In the office next door, the clerks of those courts are prepping older cases for Internet publication. Not on paper; but digitized documents. All freely available on the Internet.

Need R. v Towtongie, a January 2000 case of the Nunavut Court of Justice? Find it at CanLii here.

law report tombstoneHow about the 1965 decision of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in re Ponnou-Delafon? Try JuriMiger.

Or maybe you just have to have the July 1, 2010 decision of the New York Court of Appeals in The People v James McRae: The NY Courts can help.

Now, Google Scholar (scholar.google.com) - armed with high speed scanners of Google Books - has joined the fray. Scholar allows anyone to retrieve the more recent Westlaw cases for the last 10-15 years, with hundreds of cases being back-filled into the database every month. Simply search using the Westlaw legal citation and voila!

Irrelevance

Slowly, at the same pace, the relevance of law reports published by for-profit law reporters is dwindling.

Those private law reporters - Westlaw, Canada Law Book, Carswell - are on the precipice of corporate death.

And this is a good thing: good riddance!

Law report companies have been gouging the legal profession since the first edition of the North Western Reporter by the then-well-intentioned John West.

Access to the basic Westlaw legal database costs over $2,000 a month. In Canada, basic Quicklaw or eCarswell database access runs a hundred bucks or more a month - still too much.

Bought a law book lately?

Waddams on Contract, 6th Edition, an awful law book if you'd had the pleasure of breaking the spine of it, still sells for $165 plus taxes by Canada Law Book. For $165 plus taxes, the average Canadian can buy eight best-sellers at Chapters.

Law students and lawyers have to cough up the money, money that has to be passed on to the client.

Don't call customer service at Canada Law Book (a private law report publisher) on this. They are for-profit corporation and they exist to maximize profit and dividends.

Good business is good business. These private corporations lurk just outside the computer rooms of law schools, handing out seductive free passes to professors and students alike to build legal research automatons.

This is your classic loss-leader.

When it has come to the altruist sharing of legal information ..., well, just ask the law librarians at Osgoode Hall in Toronto.

CCH Canadian Limited and Canada Law Book objected to the downtown, public law library of the provincial law society copying published judgments. They sued for copyright infringement! This, even though the library in question  was extracting from books purchased from the publishers and those same publishers harvested their judgments from the public registries across Canada - all paid for by the Canadian tax-payer.

Rumblings

Even with the slap on the wrist by Canada's Supreme Court, with their head firmly in the sand, most private law report publishers sustain outrageously high prices on their products even while the first rumblings of a shake-down can be felt.

In April, this newspaper style email was spammed out by LexisNexis to Canadian lawyers:

"Hi Everyone. We wanted to update you on our recent restructuring of our famous Quicklaw Product. You asked and we delivered!!!.... If you are interested further, please let me know and I can set up a demo session for you and let you know more about the pricing structure as low as 120.00/month!!!"

Unless law librarians are complete idiots, the lucrative and pricey annual subscriptions to law reports - the bread and butter of law reports bottom line - must be tanking.

Private law reporters appear unresponsive to the reality of today's technology. A friendly request made to a select number of law report companies we made to use their corporate law report images and a free listing in Duhaime's Legal Citations went without acknowledgment or reply. But do a Google search for "Dominion Law Reports" and what comes up but http://citations.duhaime.org/D/DLR.aspx!

Who knows what is said at the board meeting of ThompsonReuters (the owners of West Law). Maybe the tsunami hasn't hit yet - they did pay a $119.25 dividend on my 400 shares on June 15.

But Oh! The humanity! ... of what must be sallied back and forth across the boardroom table as the medical reports from the cash cows have "ICU" stamped on them?

Will the Canada Law Books of the world (a privately-held company) defy logic and attempt to sustain their profit-first pricing policy in the face of an increasingly irrelevant product?

If you care (we don't): will they diversify on time?

Pre-Internet, the corporate law report publishers priced themselves to rake in profit, based on what the economy would sustain - not what would be reasonable and fair in light of the information so essential to the citizenry that they carried.

No good law book will go without a publisher and the professors and éminence grises who wish to play Halsbury can publish on a co-op, cost-recovery basis through one of many university presses.

What?

A law book under $100?!

Heresy!

Good Riddance

It is ironic that private law report publishers may now perceive the automated scanners of Google Scholar and Google Books as predatory. And yet as search engines slowly circle in, flanked by the non-profit law reporter wagons of CanLII, LII (USA), BAILII (England) and AustLII (Australia), nary a whimper of sympathy ought to be heard from the law courts and law schools of the land, as the mooing of starving, fat cows echo.

Speaking just for one lawyer - but one who has a hefty "law library legal publications" account to show Canada Revenue Agency every year: good riddance!

In the result, justice, legal information and the field of law will be the better for it.

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