The Open Access Revolution: Workshop Recap

Technology teaching workshop open access CanLII Torts


At CALT's July 6 web session on Open Access publishing we heard from practitioners, law teachers, and publishers about options for Open Access with CanLII.  I thought I knew what could be done with “online”, “open access” text books – but I think I’d fallen a bit behind and what I saw made me even more keen to join up.  There are lots of reasons to think about this, normative reasons (low price, public access) and functional/pedagogical reasons (customization, easy access, downloads possible, printing possible, and additional features such as embeds, links, etc).

Scroll down for more on Open Access resources and more on CanLII's platform.

Samuel Beswick is Assistant Professor at Allard where he’s teaching Torts.  You can see his Open Access, Torts casebook on CanLII:  Tort Law: Cases and Commentaries (2021 CanLIIDocs 1859). He put together two brief slides easily accessed here, to highlight important points, and he’s also done a short explainer at SLAW, here.  Those are really useful, but I think that taking a look at his casebook is perhaps the best way to see what’s possible (the artist who did the cover illustration is a student – you can see her work here).   

Sam was particularly interested in highlighting two things in his casebook.  First, a bit of comparative law from around the common law world in terms of tort doctrine.  Second, the question of how Tort law should work when the alleged tortfeasor is a public entity.  Doing his own casebook allowed him to bring those things to the fore.

Beswick's Tort Law is relatively purely a casebook – there is some commentary but it’s not from him.  But what a casebook! In particular:

  1. The cross referencing means that students can easily follow a case which might appear in a case book multiple times (for instance, in terms of the duty of care, the standard of care, and the remedy).
  2. The “additional reading” or “resources” linked can include video, news articles.
  3. The links mean that students can easily move from the excerpts he’s providing to the full text if they want to.

The work is hosted on CanLII and available completely open access.  Students can download it, access it via the web, or print it.  Sam, in fact, has it printed and requires that students buy it (at cost of printing/binding) so that they have it in print form (there were some interesting side conversations about comprehension and concentration when reading online/in print).   Sam said too that because CanLII SEO game is strong, he’s getting views from people who are probably just looking for general tort information but his book comes first when they search!

Sam has also enhanced his book with teaching tools including quizzes and help “structuring the answer on an exam” – these tools are hosted elsewhere but also available open access.  (I did not do very well on the defences quiz, 26 years post-Torts with Prof. Weinrib, scraping a pretty bare pass).

Reminder that CALT membership is open for online purchase (here). Please consider becoming a member if you find this kind of workshop and resource useful.

John Fiddick and Cameron Wardell are civil litigators in B.C., and the lead editors of The CanLII Manual to British Columbia Civil Litigation - open access on CanLII here (cover art for this Manual is by….Cameron Wardell!).  This is a different kind of project but it also highlights the incredible possibilities of OA as supported by CanLII, as a tool for access to justice and a space of collaboration not just sole authorship.

Initiated out of a concern that self-represented litigants (and new professionals) had limited places to go for a comprehensive guide to the civil litigation systems in BC.  It is deliberately written a format and language that will be accessible to the ordinary citizen.  Each of the 9 “pathfinders” (for instance, in personal injury law, residential tenancy law, and worker’s compensation law) in Administrative Law, Criminal Law Employment Law was written by a volunteer author, and a huge team of volunteer checkers and editors helped bring this project to fruition.   CanLII provided some coordination and formatting support, but the content is all volunteer-expert supplied.

Alisa Lazear,  Manager of Community and Content at CanLII, was closely involved in the development and production of the BC Manual and Sam’s Torts casebook.  While the casebook was largely a sole author production (Sam wrote it in word, and then it was uploaded to the CanLII platform), the Manual required more development and coordination.  CanLII is fielding a number of proposals for similar Manuals across the provinces.  The BC Manual is being well used (first citation, here).  As Cameron pointed out there are (Cameron’s emphasis!) “very serious lawyers” who use no database other than CanLII now.   Those of us (like me) who entered legal research just as analog methods were giving way to full text, fully commercialised databases, might not realize this – I’m not sure I did. 


If you want to read more about Open Access Resources in legal education, you can read the  Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Open Educational Resources and/or  watch a series of topic specific recorded webinars about Fair Use for Open Educational Resources  here (h/t to Osgoode’s Carys Craig, the only scholar from a Canadian Law School involved here I think).  The materials are “…intended to support authors, teachers, professors, librarians, and all open educators in evaluating when and how they can incorporate third party copyright materials into Open Educational Resources to meet their pedagogical goals”.  The clear concern here is that understandings of IP and copyright might be stifling educational use beyond what the law actually requires.

If you want to know more about CanLII platform and policies around hosting Open Access resources, you can try here (Author guidelines), here (Lexbox, free to sign up, which will show you what your materials will look like on CanLII)  and here (Reflex, which automatically finds and hyperlinks an references in your materials which connect to CanLII resources – other hyperlinks need to be manually added). Despite  CanLII's small number of staff, it is developing into a significant player in Canada as a supplier of Open Access Resources in legal practice and legal education. Alisa Lazear also recommended this guide to publishing Open Access educational resources put together by a not-for-profit: The Rebus Guide to Publishing Open Text which details the kinds of things you have to think about, and the process from beginning to Open Access (well, and beyond, since with legal material you always have to think about updates/being up-to-date).


Apologies for any errors or misunderstandings in this post, entirely my own. Huge thanks again to Alisa, Sam, John and Cameron, and Sarah Sutherland of CanLII.












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