By Gregory Walen, Q.C.
Most members of the Law Society of Saskatchewan are familiar with the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). For those not so familiar, CanLII is a not-for-profit organization whose sole shareholder is the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. Since 2001, CanLII has operated and maintained a website providing members of the legal profession and the public-at-large a virtual Library of Canadian legal information.
At present, CanLII operates with a skillsbased, expert board of directors appointed by the Federation of Law Societies. Prior to the Federation moving in this direction, the board of directors was
comprised of representatives from all law societies. The Federation felt that a skills-based board of directors would be better suited to carry out their vision of CanLII’s future. Of note, Tom Schonhoffer, Q.C., our former Executive Director of the Law Society, was recently appointed to the Board.
The success of CanLII as an on-line research engine for lawyers cannot be overstated. This comment on its website sums it up:
“With one million documents across 200 databases, CanLII is closer than ever to achieving the dreams of its founders to become the best place for lawyers and all Canadians to consult Canadian law.”
Since its inception, CanLII has relied upon a company called Lexum, a software company delivering online management and publication of legal information. That legal information mostly consists of cases from all levels of court in every province and territory in Canada. Without Lexum and its proprietary software, many would argue that CanLII would cease to exist, at least in its present successful state.
Of course, CanLII contracting with Lexum did not come cheap. The cost of contracting the services of Lexum was not an insignificant portion of CanLII’s annual budget. Ultimately, it is every member of every law society in Canada that funds CanLII through an annual levy which we pay through our law society membership fees. In the 2018 year, members of all law societies across Canada (excluding the Barreau du Quebec and the Chambre de Notaire) will pay or have paid a levy of $41.94 for CanLII’s operations.
Needless to say that over the years some of us have had concerns that CanLII’s future essentially rested with its ongoing contractual relations with Lexum, a company that also provided software solutions to other organizations. Those concerns appeared to have disappeared in the later part of 2017 when an opportunity arose for CanLII to acquire a 100 per cent interest in Lexum. Negotiations took place over many months and, on February 28, 2018, the Federation announced that the deal was sealed and CanLII was now the owner of its own service supplier.
In announcing the acquisition, the Federation President, Sheila MacPherson said
“CanLII has grown from a pilot project to become the indispensable goto legal research tool for Canada’s legal profession…The acquisition of Lexum marks an important milestone in the history of CanLII positioning both to take on future challenges in a competitive legal information marketplace.”
So where to from here? It is my view that CanLII will move on to be the Canadian legal profession’s most utilized legal research tool, if it has not already reached that status. I suspect we may see a move towards publication of secondary sources such as digests and texts supplementing CanLII’s focus on primary sources of law.