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Ontario Reports should go digital, says Toronto lawyer

|Written By Robert Todd

Law Society of Upper Canada members could have an easier time taking their recycling bins out to the sidewalk if a Toronto lawyer''s request for weekly Ontario Reports distributions to go digital-only catches on.

Ted Tjaden has asked the LSUC why the weekly paper part of Ontario Reports isn

Ted Tjaden says he has sent a letter to the law society asking why the weekly paper part of the reports is not distributed in electronic format only, which he believes could save trees and costs while enhancing the interactivity of the publication.

"A lot of lawyers read [the Ontario Reports] on a weekly basis, and they simply discard it when it's done," Tjaden tells Law Times. "It serves a value, but it's really a current awareness value, and [the question is] whether that need can be met through a digital version."

Tjaden notes in a posting on the legal blog Slaw that law society members get a weekly paper part of the Ontario Reports through their membership fees. The publication includes several recent key Ontario cases, notices, advertisements, and announcements.

Larger firms, notes Tjaden, pay a separate fee to get bound versions of the key cases for their library collections.

"Although the print weekly part is convenient and has its advantages, I wonder if the time has come for the law society to advance beyond the Gutenberg technology of the mid-1400s by going digital," wrote Tjaden in the blog.

He said the advantages of going digital include saving trees and paper; reducing costs to the law society and possibly easing the need for third-party publishers; greater interactivity for readers, such as links to relevant online content like cases and court rules; and the fact that advertisements could be included in the online version via a "clickable table of contents or menu."

Tjaden says in an interview that he is awaiting a reply from the law society.

"I want a response - just getting an understanding of their business model, is it a money-maker for them, and is there a better way of doing this that still meets members' needs?" he says.

Vern Krishna, a law society bencher and editor-in-chief of the Ontario Reports, notes that the LSUC contracts out the production of the publication. He says the idea of the publication going digital-only has been floated before, and he's not convinced that law society members would overwhelmingly support such a move.

"I get a lot of materials in electronic format, and I get a lot of material in hard copy," he says. "I enjoy both formats depending on what they actually do."

As a tax lawyer, Krishna says he deals with a constant barrage of materials to his e-mail inbox.

"It's an overwhelming amount of material, which the print edition of the Ontario Reports circumvents because they go through a very serious process of selection," he says.

"Secondly, I think there are a lot of people who enjoy reading printed material, because it depends where they read it. Even in this technological age people read a lot sitting on subway cars and tram cars, over lunch and over coffee, etcetera," says Krishna.

He notes that a proposal to enlarge the size of the publication was rejected because many readers said they enjoyed the convenience of the smaller format.

Krishna says he is not privy to many of the commercial aspects of the publication, which he says must be kept in mind. But he says the Ontario Reports is a "reasonable revenue generator for the law society."

Tjaden is the director of library and knowledge management at McMillan LLP, but notes that his views don't necessarily reflect those of his firm. He says he was prompted to make an inquiry on the matter following a comment from a colleague.

"Actually, somebody from my mailroom made a side comment saying, 'We get 200 of these every Friday,' or whatever it is, and it just seems kind of silly to them that they have to distribute all of these," Tjaden says.

He says it's tough to know how many lawyers utilize the paper copies of the Ontario Reports, but notes that lawyers enjoy them and find them convenient. Tjaden says he tears out ads for new books, or entire cases he finds relevant. "It's good subway reading," he says.

Tjaden rejects the idea that the publication would lose part of its audience by scrapping the print format.

"I think it's a mistaken assumption - and I'm guilty of this - that you sort of assume that older lawyers are not savvy enough," says Tjaden.

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