Making Legal Information and Research More Accessible

DSCF0515In the 2016-2017 academic year, I volunteered for ECELAW as a Pro Bono student through the Schulich School of Law. Four other classmates and I were asked to find environmental law cases from throughout Atlantic Canada on issues, such as access to information, waste management, toxic substances, and contaminated sites. All five of us were first-year law students, and all of us were new to legal research. Learning how to search efficiently and effectively for environmental case law took a lot of practice—and a lot of trial and error too.

Legal research can be daunting. Depending on the questions you want answered and the information you hope to discover, it can be hard to know where to start. The most sophisticated online databases can only be accessed through paid subscriptions, and although open-access databases like CanLII offer a wealth of information, it isn’t always easy to find what you need if you aren’t sure what to look for. Fledgling law students face a steep learning curve when they tackle legal research for the first time, but members of the public who have no legal training at all face even bigger hurdles.

ECELAW’s online legal Information Library was created years ago, and it has always been open-access and intended for public use. The library exists to make environmental law information more accessible to the public. Users can search for environmental law cases by province or by subject matter, and the library can point them to relevant legislation and some secondary sources too. ECELAW’s goal in maintaining the library is to make it easier for members of the public to learn about environmental law in Atlantic Canada.

This summer, a Schulich Internship from the Schulich School of Law made it possible for me to finish the first of a series of major updates to the Information Library. All of the research completed by Pro Bono students over the past two years has now been edited and added to the library, and the result is hundreds of new case summaries on issues that are relevant to our region. There are also new resources designed to make the library more accessible. A “How to Use This Library” feature offers some pointers on conducting legal research, a Glossary offers basic definitions of important legal terms, and a Feedback form makes it easy for users to submit questions and comments.

In the coming months, Pro Bono students will be working to prepare further updates to the legislation and secondary sources sections of the library. Other Pro Bono students will be laying the foundations for a whole new section on Aboriginal and Indigenous law in environmental contexts. I can’t wait to see the library continue to grow, and I’m looking forward to playing a part in its ongoing development. More than anything, though, I’m excited to see how members of the public—that’s you!—respond to the resource.

We want this library to serve you well, so if you want a new question answered in our FAQs section, a new term added to the Glossary, or a new category of cases added to the database, let us know! The Information Library is here for you, and you can help to shape it.

Tina Northrup