From a conference to an unconference

So, between Thursday 13th June and Saturday 15th June, I attended the annual BIALL conference in Glasgow, thanks to the help of a generous bursary from BIALL. Now, due to funding restrictions with my previous employer, I’d not been able to attend this event since 2008. As this is the main professional event for the UK legal information sector, I always felt frustrated that I was missing out on being somewhere where important developments were being discussed, and that I wasn’t getting to make the connections with people that I should.

However, since 2008, lots of things have changed, especially in the way people who are effectively strangers to each other can communicate. Basically: Twitter happened.

Now, through Twitter, I feel like I have an excellent network of contacts both within my sector and outside it, and as I restrict the amount of people I follow/allow to follow me, I feel I really know them quite well. So when I need help with anything, I can ask my contacts, and get a good range of trustworthy responses. This has also meant that, when I got to the conference this year, I already “knew” (from Twitter interactions) a large number of people. Of course, meeting in person is great to allow the cementing and further development of these online relationships, but the ice was already broken on these relationships by initial online contact.

So, what was the conference useful for, beyond the development of professional relationships? It was a chance to attend talks and sessions on areas of legal activity that were of interest to me. The only problem with this was, although the talks were often good in content, the format of a conference means that you just don’t get the time to discuss topics in details. You have a speaker, who speaks, and then answers a few questions from the audience. It’s a discussion, but it’s only with one person. There’s a certain amount you can learn, but it’s only from one person, and anything that others in the audience may have to contribute is filtered out by time and format restrictions. Also, it’s a discussion being held solely with legal information professionals: a subset of a profession only talking to itself about itself isn’t particularly healthy!

Therefore, after discussions with some other attendees, I had an idea, and made a suggestion to some of the Committee members of the Scottish Law Librarians Group. I suggested that we try and create a Scots Law Unconference, to enable professionals working in Scots law to interact with each other, across all sectors, not just those working as information professionals, but academics, government staff, and legal practitioners. It’s just the beginnings of an idea at the moment, but I think that there’s a real lack of a space for people working in Scots law to have contact with people in other areas of the law, which means you can become very blinkered about what factors are impacting on not only your own work, but that of others working in law too. There’s also the problem with the standard conference format, in that it’s set up to enable one person to teach a group about their topic/experiences, rather than allow a group to discuss and learn from each other around a theme. I know there was some frustration at BIALL at the lack of an opportunity to do just that (although in one case, discussing Open Access in academia, a lunchtime discussion meeting was set up informally), so an Unconference format, with a body/group guiding the discussions themes would be more conducive to this type of sharing. As the main body for legal information professionals in Scotland, with members in various workplaces and sectors, the SLLG would be well placed to investigate the possibilities of an event like this and host it, welcoming any participants with an interest in Scots law.

It might take a bit of effort to get it off the ground, and the format might not suit everybody, but if it doesn’t work out…well, at least we tried, right? And if nobody ever tries, nothing every changes.

Now….anyone out there want to volunteer a lovely venue to the SLLG, and perhaps some nice sponsorship 😉

Scots law jurisdiction – it is actually a real thing, you know

Admittedly, various legal database suppliers seem to think that English/Welsh law and Scots law are interchangeable.

For example: Westlaw. It’s developed a sort of “know how” product called Insight, which should allow more in depth analysis and updates on certain points of law. This is handy, and the sort of things our users like – no wading through articles or textbooks and checking if they’re up to date or take into account recent judgments – just nice primers on specific legal points.

Which would be lovely, if Westlaw could remember that not all jurisdictions are the same.

When I go into the Scots Law tab on Westlaw (which should restrict my searches to only Scottish material, hence avoiding a lot of time wasting and confusion when I’m looking for something with a specific Scottish meaning), it gives me the new option of Insight within that tab. “Oh good,” I thought, “they’re actually paying some attention to their Scottish users, and putting Scottish content on!”.

So I went into the Contract section…and immediately was irritated. As you can see from the photo, despite Insight being within the Scots law tab, the information on contract is for English law, as “The Law of Contract in Scotland” by William McBryde is the core text for Scots law.

Wrong. Oh so VERY wrong. Even more glaringly wrong when you consider that McBryde is available as an electronic book on Westlaw, just as they inform us that Chitty is.

If a resource is inaccurate and/or misleading, it teaches the service users to mistrust it: how much time will I be wasting telling my users that Westlaw’s accurate…but only up to a point…usually…and really, it’s best to double check everything they do on it?

How about we just agree Insight’s inaccurate for any Scots law, and have it removed from access via that tab until it’s useful?

And Westlaw’s not the only legal database provider being stupidly unhelpful and forgetting that English law and Scots law are not one and the same thing.

I used LexisLibrary to access Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia of the Laws of Scotland. Even ignoring the fact that their new style search results don’t work (a whole other issue we will need to go in to with them later), they’re working on being confusing too, although not to quite the extent as Westlaw.

If I’m using Stair, I am looking specifically for Scottish legal information. I will not be helped by being given information from other jurisdictions. So helpfully inserting a suggestion at the top of my search about what a term means in an entirely different context is of absolutely no relevance to my search. It may be a “key narrative definition”, but it’s for an entirely different country, and for an entirely different topic!

We, as the intermediaries for users of these resources, need to be able to confidently tell them: “Yes, that information’s accurate – experts in legal issues have checked the contributions and I can confirm they’re as good and reliable as you can get.” Right now, I just can’t do this, and it means our users trust in these (very expensive) resources is being eroded more each time they come up against a glaring inaccuracy.

So, legal database publishers, lets try going over this again, shall we?

Scotland is a separate jurisdiction from England and Wales
Scotland has different laws from England and Wales
Scotland has different legal terms than England and Wales
Scotland has different legal resources from England and Wales

Can you all repeat that until you know what it means, and stop trying to give us English/Welsh law instead of our own? Oh, by the way, you might want to remember that Welsh law is likely to start differing significantly from English law soon too, as their Assembly starts to exercise their powers. Try and take that into consideration for the future?

Taylor Review of Expenses and Funding in Civil Litigation

I know, I know, you’re all on tenterhooks, awaiting the release of this blockbuster read….but you’re going to have to wait a little bit longer.

Despite the timescale being 18 months, and the Review being launched in May, meaning that… *does quick calculation on fingers and toes*…the Review should be being released this month, it seems that due to the large volume of responses they’ve received, there’s a whole lot more work needed than was expected.

So, dampen down your excitement until early 2013, kiddies!

Back to the Renewables Future

So, while trying to find out what the difference between a megawatt and a gigawatt is, I had a thought…how much power, in gigawatts, did it take to power the Delorean in “Back to the Future”?
According to the esteemed Doc Brown, it was 1.21 gigawatts, the power being provided by the nuclear reaction of plutonium, unwisely stolen from terrorists.
According to the Scottish Government (p3), as at July 2011, Scotland had 4.2 gigawatts of installed capacity from renewable sources such as wind and wave power.

We could send Marty Back to the Future three times over. And completely avoid the need for stealing plutonium from bad guys.