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Colin Lachance, President and CEO of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII), completed his LLM in Law and Technology at University of Ottawa in 2013. In 2014, Canadian Lawyer Magazine named him one of the Top 25 Most Influential in the justice system and legal profession in the “changemakers” category and the American Bar Association Journal named him a “Legal Rebel.”
Could you tell us about your current job? What types of projects do you work on? What’s a typical day like?
CanLII is Canada’s most used legal information resource and as its CEO, I have the privilege of helping make the law free and accessible to everyone. My days involve working with courts, technology companies, law societies and others to see this mission through. More recently, with the launch of CanLII Connects and our push into publishing case commentary and other secondary sources, I’m spending much more time with web developers, lawyers, legal publishers, law students and others to see how we can push the boundaries and help make legal information easier to learn and understand.
What do you really like about your position?
It’s extremely rewarding to be part of a not-for-profit and mission-driven organization that has such broad and deep support from the legal community and the public. And, as someone afflicted with “shiny object syndrome,” I derive great pleasure from being involved in all aspects of our business and in moving quickly between tradition concerns like ensuring open courts and access to justice, to leading edge technology things like developing and co-hosting (with the CLTS) a legal tech hackathon and launching what might have been the world’s API (that’s “application programming interface” for the non-technical) that provides metadata level access to a country’s entire scope of current legal information.
What are the challenges?
“Shiny object syndrome” does have its downsides. Due to limited resources not every project identified can be pursued to its fullest potential. Also, I regularly face the downside of the open court principles so essential to the administration of justice in Canada – namely, the impact on individuals whose private details are contained in these judgments. On a near daily basis we receive emails and calls asking for content to be removed. Some of the stories are heart-wrenching, but in the absence of an actual publication ban or applicable law limiting the scope of publishable information, we can’t suppress or alter the information the court saw fit to include.
What did you study at University of Ottawa Law & Technology?
When I began, I was employed in the regulatory and government affairs branch of a national telecommunications company and my intent was to dig deeper into the principles and international approaches to establishing policy and regulatory frameworks in fast moving and capital intensive internet-centric technology industries. That narrow focus didn’t last much beyond my first course.
As much of the leading thinking and action in technology law happens in the University of Ottawa (even across Canada many of the leading thinkers have University of Ottawa Law roots, whether as students or faculty), I decided to go broad instead of deep. Concurrent with my move to CanLII, I expanded my interests to include regulation of internet communication, open access issues and the role of social media in dissemination of legal information and enhancement of legal literacy.
How did your studies in Law & Technology at University of Ottawa help you get to where you are now?
It’s no exaggeration to say that had I not enrolled in the Law & Technology program at University of Ottawa I would not have aggressively sought the opportunity to lead CanLII. The pathway isn’t direct, but the thrill and intellectual stimulation that came from my Technopolicy and Technoprudence classes made it very plain to me that I needed to follow my new found passions into a direction that would allow me to keep learning as the rate of change in the law/tech environment was only going to increase.
Do you have any advice for the current students at University of Ottawa and the Centre for Law, Technology and Society?
Participate fully, energetically and with an open mind in class. You are surrounded by amazing people who have much to teach you if you help them show you their best. You are not in class to win arguments but to understand the issues from as many perspectives as time permits. Whether solely within the graduate class setting or within those classes taken among the JD students, the experience you get from understanding how others think and approach problems will prove far more valuable to you in the long run than focussing on the quickest way to a good grade.
What about those considering Law & Technology at University of Ottawa?
Simply this: any school can issue you a degree, but in this program you can gain a true education.
Interview: December 2014