Digital O.R.s: Good start, but could be better…

Toronto business lawyerWhen I created my parody videos (2 completed, 1 still in the works) about the hard-copy O.R.s, I never thought it would come to this (i.e. the O.R.s going digital).

I (along with others, such as Garry Wise and Ted Tjaden) simply saw a flaw in the system and thought we should comment about it. My particular way of commenting about it was a bit different: I used a video camera, myself, and some editing software. I wanted to show everyone how I felt about the O.R.s: they were killing trees, cluttering my office and could not be stopped. All Ontario lawyers knew that feeling. You can’t stop the O.R.s from coming every week unless you stopped being a lawyer. Worst of all, I felt that they may have some good information within, so I didn’t chuck them. I held onto them. I tried to read as much as I could with my busy schedule. Older lawyers told me to read them because they always contained some golden nugget of information. I was conflicted and wished the Law Society of Upper Canada would provide us with a better way.

Thankfully, they did. Unfortunately, the “better way” has a lot of shortcomings, but I’m hopeful that they can eventually be overcome.

I begin my analysis with the layout of the Ontario Reports itself (which is quite terrible). This publication (small, primarily black, white, and grey booklet) is in dire need of a graphic artist’s touch. Why are we still using Roman Numerals? Does anyone actually say: “Oh, the Notices are on pages Ixix-Ixxix! I’m going to go there now!” The publication simply looks like something thrown together from the dark ages. In this section we have news. In that section we have the classified ads. Then we have some caselaw for you. Categorical? Yes. Sexy? No. I guess lawyers just got used to the idea of how it was organized and didn’t want to change it. Or maybe lawyers didn’t give the layout much thought because of the enormous AMOUNT of other publications we get every month that have cool layouts (e.g. Lawyers Weekly, Law Times, Precedent, The National, Law Pro Magazine, Canadian Lawyer, specific law journals, etc.). It’s simply a lot! So, in my humble opinion, the Law Society should talk to my wife (Paris) – who is a graphic designer – about the layout of the O.R.s. Simply because every lawyer in Ontario receives an O.R. each week in the mail or by e-mail doesn’t mean we’re going to read it 😉

Now, lets move on to functionality. The hard-copy O.R. could be flipped through with ease. Everyone knows the caselaw was at the back and the Law Society announcements and classified ads were in the front. The black, white, and gray text and images made it easy on the eyes. Sure, the print got small at some points, but they had to cram a lot of info into this tiny booklet. Zooming in and out only required you to bring the O.R. closer or further away from your eyes. Overall, browsing was easy. Searching, however, was hard (as it is with all hard-copy publications).

Enter the digital O.R.s As Garry Wise has pointed out, the zoom and re-pagination features are not user-friendly. One click and you’re zoomed in way too much. Another click and you’re back to where you started. It gets frustrating really fast. I tried the whole page function. The problem here is that when you’re simply browsing through an O.R., you’re so zoomed in that you lose the forest for the trees. You have to keep on clicking endlessly to get to the next page and section (if that’s what you’re trying to do). If you simply keep it on the two-page layout, you can barely read anything (the print was so small). AND I was trying it out on a 42 inch screen! Besides the zoom problem is moving from one area on the screen to the next. I would have liked to be able to use my mouse to “grab” a piece of the page and move it around (you know, using the hand icon) instead of having to rely on the scroll bars and zooming. But maybe I’m just being a bit too fussy…

A significant problem is the fact that you can’t highlight and copy and paste selections! That’s a big bummer. While I am glad to be able to see a larger version of the O.R. on my computer screen (it’s easier on the eyes), I want to be able to grab, copy, paste, etc. any part of it. If I want to grab a copy of what I’m reading, I have to print the page, scan it, and get some software to recognize the text….way too much work! This should have been one of the biggest benefits to having the digital O.R.s. I’m hoping the next iteration of the digital O.R.s will have this functionality.

There are some features which I’m a bit baffled about. Why is there a “links section” in the content index? Will lawyers be browsing through hundreds of links? Is this necessary? Also, do we need a search bar at the top of the page and on the left hand side? I spend a lot of time thinking about website design issues and when you’re putting things twice on a page it means you’re doing something wrong (cluttering up the space). Keep it simple. Keep it easy on the end-user.

At the end of the day, would I pay hundreds of dollars each year for this publication if it weren’t being rammed down my throat. Not in this format and with this limited functionality, that’s for sure. That said, I’m planning on staying digital – for the sake of trees and keeping my office space clean.

Finally worth mentioning is that I really like what Garry Wise has been saying from the get go: the Law Society should provide an index in their weekly O.R. e-mail announcement that contains summaries and links for lawyers to click through to reach specific pages and sections. This way, lawyers aren’t guessing what’s going to be on the agenda for this week. We’re busy enough as it is. Why force us to click through and read the index on a separate website when you could provide it all in the e-mail. Also a la Mr. Wise, the Law Society should provide an opportunity for lawyers to interact and engage each other in a broader discussion about the content. This could be done by allowing lawyers to leave comments and links to other sources. If the aim of the O.R.s is supposed to be communal information sharing among a professional body, then it shouldn’t be one-way communication coming from up-high.

I know the Law Society and Lexis Nexis are trying hard to appease many different appetites (the old, the new, the tech and not so tech savvy). And I commend them for doing SOMETHING after such a long time. And I am looking forward to the next version of the O.R.s (which will hopefully be a sleek and sexy digital publication)!

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