2015 Clawbies: Canadian Law Blog Awards

Ten years ago this week, a post appeared at the Vancouver Law Library Blog, written by Steve Matthews and titled “2006 CLawBies – Canada Law Blog Awards.” To understand what prompted Steve to write this post, re-read its opening lines: “There’s no doubt that Canadian law blogs were on a roll in 2006. Our online voices have made inroads into the US blogosphere, and we’ve established great connections with European law blogs.”

That’s a useful reminder that, not too long ago, the legal blog world was overwhelmingly American, with some British participants and a scattering of players from other countries. Canadian law blogs, true to their nationality, tended to be modest and low-profile, making some quiet observations about the northern legal landscape in an unobtrusive manner. They didn’t get that much attention either inside or outside the nation’s borders.

The Clawbies (the “l” and “b” have long since gone lower-case) were meant to rectify that. Steve felt, correctly, that although the volume of Canadian legal blogging was relatively small, the quality was excellent and the potential for these blogs to have a real impact on lawyers and their clients was immense. He wanted to draw attention to Canadian law blogs and encourage more of us to develop them.

Mission, as they say, accomplished. What started out as a handful of Canadian blawgs in 2006 is a vibrant population of more than 500 today. Blogs in law have grown from niche oddities to mainstream legal marketing mainstays; the question asked of law firms today isn’t “Why are you blogging?” but rather, “Where’s your blog?” Here on our tenth anniversary, we’ll take a moment of unCanadian immodesty and suggest that in Canada at least, the Clawbies played some small part in that evolution.

Blogs have prospered throughout the legal profession worldwide: the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100 (which launched a year after the Clawbies) is now a veritable institution for the legal profession south of the border. Yet blogs have also become something of a victim of their success: many have now been folded into law firms’ publishing machinery, merged with electronic newsletters, or converted into LinkedIn and Facebook updates. Like many innovations before them, blogs have been adopted into the operations of law firms and are now considered just another way to attract clients.

We maintain, however, that there’s more to blogging than simply business development. The great advance that blogging enabled, not just inside the law but throughout society, was giving ordinary people the power to publish. Writing and publishing was no longer the exclusive domain of those who owned gigantic printing presses and massive distribution networks: if you had an internet connection and an account at Blogger or TypePad (or later, WordPress), you too could tell the world what you thought, and let the world decide if it wanted to hear more.

With this “level playing field” for publishing, blogging today has become a proving ground for high-quality writing. It’s given solos and small firms megaphones with which to rival the volume of BigLaw marketing, and helped modernize and transform the marketing functions within BigLaw firms themselves. But what it’s really done is allowed individual lawyers to step out from behind their professional walls and engage with colleagues, clients, and citizens as real people with unique voices and genuine interests. Blogs have reminded lawyers how much trust and relationships matter to successful legal careers, and have given them an easy, affordable tool to develop that trust and build those relationships day by day.

The legal world is a lot different today than it was in 2006, and so is the legal blog world. What used to be a small community is now a crowded city, and it’s harder than ever to stand out and make yourself heard in such a busy marketplace of ideas and voices. Many veteran blawggers lament what feels like the loss of law blogs’ early idealism and charm. Expectations are also higher now for the look, feel, and quality of law blogs than they used to be. On balance, we think that these developments are natural, inevitable, and not necessarily all that bad.

But before we proceed to relate the winners of our 10th annual Clawbies, we wanted to reassert the importance of law blogs for individual lawyers, for the business of law firms, and for the people and businesses lawyers serve. The Clawbies have never had a specific checklist of criteria against which nominees are judged. But we believe very strongly that the best law blogs have always answered, and still answer today, to four key characteristics.

  1. They are practical, offering implementable insights and real-world solutions for readers more than airy reflections on the state of the law.
  1. They are genuine, delivering the authentic voice and actual opinions of the lawyers who write them.
  1. They are conversational, engaging the reader as an interested and intelligent observer who has as much to contribute as she has to learn.
  1. They are about improving the legal system, either by expanding the knowledge base of citizens and clients or making law better for society.

These are the standards against which we’ve always tried to measure the most deserving Clawbies candidates, and once again this year, we’ve had no shortage of worthy nominees who tick most if not all of these boxes. Without further ado, we are very proud to announce the winners of the 2015 Clawbie Awards for the best law blogs in Canada!

1. The Fodden Award for Best Canadian Law Blog

Winner: Administrative Law Matters. This was one of our toughest choices in years, thanks to the incredible quality and high standards of the top Canadian law blogs. But there was simply no way to deny Administrative Law Matters from claiming the coveted Fodden Award. Paul Daly’s blog is a master’s-level course in understanding and keeping up with the latest developments in an area of law that touches everyone from the largest corporation and government department to the smallest business and individual Canadians. Paul’s singular accomplishment is to combine such high quality with such extraordinary quantity: new posts appear as frequently at his one-man blog as they do on many group blogs. In a field of deserving candidates, Administrative Law Matters is the clear choice for best law blog of the year.

Runners-Up:

ABlawg, the blog of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law, would have emerged victorious in this category in any other year. You’ll see them again in this post.

Double Aspect, last year’s Fodden winner, continued to set incredible standards for constitutional law and public policy blogging.

Michael Geist, a multiple-Clawbie winner, remains one of the most important and valuable voices in the global blawgosphere.

2. Best Practitioner Blog Award

Winners:

Alcohol & Advocacy: Litigator Daniel Coles of Owen Bird Law Corporation in Vancouver writes a personal and engaging blog about developments in liquor licencing and regulation and their impact on bars, restaurants, breweries and retailers.

Mack’s Criminal Law: This group blog, headlined by Ottawa Crown Attorney Dallas Mack, enters the Clawbies as a true rarity: a blog written by Crown Attorneys that details the criminal justice system from the prosecutorial perspective.

Meurrens On Immigration: It’s not surprising that, in what has become the Year of the Refugee, immigration law blogs have moved to the forefront of Canadian law blogs. The best such blog among many in 2015 was written by Vancouver immigration practitioner Steven Meurrens.

 3. Legal Culture Award

Winner: Lawsome. This lively and interesting blog covers “all things law-related in Canada, including law news, industry, events, jobs, cases, legal issues, articling, students and work/life balance.” Written by Vancouver litigator and columnist Kathryn Marshall, Lawsome has a particular interest in the prospects of women in the modern legal profession, as well as in career planning and legal innovation.

Runners-Up:

Law and Innovation: Toronto litigator Heather Douglas provides insightful commentary on legal current events, jurisprudential inquiry, and even book reviews.

Young, Smart & Legal: “Embrace Your Ambition” is the tagline for Toronto lawyer Valarie Matthews’ blog about navigating your way through the first years of your legal career.

4. Non-Lawyer Audience Award

Winner: Representing Yourself Canada. The National Self-Represented Litigants Project at the University of Windsor is at once perhaps the most important and most unsung access to justice initiative in North America. Regular updates on everything A2J-related, as well as a conversational tone and a commitment to practical solutions makes this blog, led by NSRLP leader Prof. Julie Macfarlane, one of our current favourites and a runaway winner in this category.

Runner-up: Canada’s Proposed Antiterrorism Act: An Assessment. University of Ottawa law professors Kent Roach and Craig Forcese achieved something novel: a real-time critical analysis of controversial federal legislation Bill C-51 and its debate in Parliament that made a difference in the bill’s fortunes.

5. Friend of the North Award

Winner: Law Sites Blog. We were a little amazed, looking back over the last ten years of the Clawbies, that we’ve never before bestowed a Clawbie on one of our favourite legal technology writers, Bob Ambrogi of Boston. Legal technology developments, product reviews, and legal tech startup reports from Canada and around the world constitute the backbone of this must-read blog for everyone in the legal profession. Law Sites just keeps getting better year after year, and this Clawbie is only the most recent accolade deservedly received by Bob Ambrogi.

Runners-Up:

Sarah Glassmeyer: Honourary Canadian Sarah continues her incisive and acidly funny assessments of legal research, open access, and legal information developments, now from Harvard Law School.

Seytlines: Changing the Practice of Law: Led by Chicago-based Kenneth Grady of Seyfarth Lean Consulting, this blog has quickly become one of the best sources of insightful commentary about the changing legal market.

3 Geeks and a Law Blog: It just keeps getting better. One of our favourite blogs about legal information, technology, process, pricing, and BigLaw life is on our must-read list, thanks to Toby Brown, Greg Lambert, Ryan McClead, Lisa Salazar, and newest Geek D. Casey Flaherty.

 6. The Global Leadership Award

Formerly the “EuroCan Connection Award,” we renamed this category on our 10th anniversary to reflect how legal blogging truly has become a worldwide phenomenon. In recognition of this reality, our first Global Leadership Award goes to the LIV Young Lawyers Blog at the Law Institute of Victoria in Australia. Not only does this blog provide outstanding practical advice and guidance for lawyers beginning their careers, but the comments section is among the most dynamic and engaging in the legal blog world. Bar associations and law societies worldwide could benefit from following the LIV’s example.

7. Legal News Award

Winner: National Magazine Blog. Along with the recent redesign of its print edition, the Canadian Bar Association’s magazine has also scaled new heights in its blog, which covers both significant developments in the law in Canada as well as the changing landscape of legal practice globally. Led by associate editor Yves Faguy, National’s team of contributors (including staffers and CBA members) is changing the standards by which legal magazine blogs are judged.

Runners-up:

Legal Feeds, the blog of Canadian Lawyer magazine.

Legal Post, the blog of the National Post’s legal section

8. Best Practice Management Blog Award

Winner: AvoidAClaim. There’s simply no better online resource for running a secure, fraud-aware, and modern law practice than AvoidAClaim, the blog of legal professional insurance provider LawPRO. Led as always by Dan Pinnington and his team of bloggers, AvoidAClaim provides unparalleled coverage of attempted frauds directed against lawyers and security breaches suffered by law firms, as well as updates on key legal technology and practice management developments. Read this blog and run a safer and more successful law practice.

Runners-Up:

Thoughtful Legal Management, by Vancouver’s David Bilinsky

The Lean Law Firm, by David Skinner and Karen Dunn Skinner of Gimbal Canada Lean Practice Management Advisors in Montreal

9. Best Law Library Blog Award

Winner: Legal Sourcery. Few categories prompt so many nominations from our readers as Best Law Library Blog, and no blog receives so many or such enthusiastic nominations as Legal Sourcery. The blog of the Law Society of Saskatchewan consistently generates engaging and informative posts about legal developments, regulatory changes, research trends, and just plain fun observations and contests. Ken Fox, Melanie Hodges Neufeld, Alan Kilpatrick , Kelly Laycock, and Sarah Roussel-Lewis lead the way.

Runners-Up:

Library Canuck: Legal Sourcery’s Alan Kilpatrick runs his own blog that looks at law library and access to justice issues, among many others.

McGill Law Library Blog: Hard-core bibliophiles will love this blog’s photo-rich collection of ancient legal manuscripts and jurisprudential treasures. In both official languages, too!

The Stream: A perennial favourite of Clawbie nominators, the blog of B.C. Courthouse Libraries is especially well-known for its practical “Asked and Answered” blog post series.

10. Legal Technology Blog Award

Winner: Clio Practice Management Blog. We tend to tread carefully around blogs operated by legal technology vendors, as they sometimes blur the lines between informing their readers and promoting their products. But Clio’s Practice Management Blog gets the balance right, providing pragmatic, step-by-step guidance to lawyers (especially in smaller firms) about selecting the right technologies and implementing them. Fiona Finn and Victoria Potter lead the Clio blogging team.

11. Best Practice Group Blog Award

This category was originally intended to cover (and to encourage more) blogs by practice or industry groups in large law firms. We might have succeeded too well, because there is now an embarrassment of riches under this entry, and it’s truly difficult to choose among all the outstanding possibilities. But we decided to highlight three blogs that, if you were a client or a lawyer who worked in these areas, you could rely upon as a “one-stop shop” for all the information and insights you needed about this area of law. Accordingly, our Clawbies this year go to:

Canadian Class Actions Monitor, by McCarthy Tétrault: Coast-to-coast coverage of class actions in Canada, with in-depth analysis of changes in certification standards across jurisdictions. Maybe the best practice group blog in the country, period.

Condo Adviser, by Gowlings: Led by Ottawa partner Rod Escayola, a province-wide team of lawyers covers the Ontario condominium scene from ground floor to penthouse, including blow-by-blow coverage of Bill 106.

Startup Source, by Aird & Berlis: Led by partner Rebecca Kacaba and associate Mat Goldstein, Startup Source provides a wide range of insights for Canada’s fast-growing startup community, including tips from founders, startup hints, and advice on financing and IP.

12. Best New Blog Award

Every year, we worry that we won’t have enough great candidates for this award. And every year, we’re happy to be proven wrong. Too many to choose from here, but we still came up with three very deserving winners.

McElroy Law Blog: Ottawa criminal defence lawyer Anne-Marie McElroy’s blog debuted in September and instantly became one of the best in the country. A special focus was on the oft-misunderstood area of sentencing.

Vancouver Immigration Law Blog: Continuing the trend of great immigration law blogging in 2015, this blog by Vancouver lawyer Will Tao combines practical guidance with strong opinions about immigration law trends.

Welcome to the Food Court: The runaway winner of the unofficial “Best Blog Name” award, this blog and podcast on food law in Canada comes to you from Toronto’s G.S. Jameson & Company.

13. Best Law School/Law Professor Blog Award

As with the Fodden Award, there are so many worthy candidates here that we feel badly in having to bypass some deserving nominees.

Winner: ABlawg. Yes, the blog of the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law is also a runner-up for the Fodden Award. But the quality and frequency of ABlawg entries make it impossible for us not to honour it with a Clawbie of its own. Martin Olszynski, Sharon Mascher, and Nigel Bankes lead a stellar cast of faculty who help set the standard for law school blogging.

Runners-Up:

Ideablawg: Continuing the run of excellence from the Alberta law professor community, Lisa Silver at the University of Calgary Faculty of Law blogs and podcasts about the intersection of law and ideas, specially in criminal law.

Peter Sankoff’s blog at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law shares substantive legal thoughts and tips for using the “flipped classroom” model, but it really stands out for its “Ten Minutes On” video-blog series from which many practicing lawyers could take a lesson.

The Court: It’s hard to relegate Osgoode Hall Law School’s blog to runner-up status, because this is truly one of Canada’s most outstanding legal blogs in any category. A past recipient of multiple Clawbies, we feel confident The Court will be back in the winner’s circle again before long.

And there you have it: the 10th-anniversary Clawbies are in the books. Our thanks to Emma Durand-Wood, Simon Fodden, and Jordan Furlong for helping out with this year’s judging, to all the bloggers and tweeters who gave us so many nominations to choose from, and above all, to Canada’s law bloggers: you are truly among the world’s elite in your fields, and we can’t wait to see what you’ve got for us in the next ten years. Congratulations to our winners and runners-up, kudos to our nominees, and Happy New Year to all!

Nominations Open for 10th Annual Canadian Law Blog Awards

So, what were you doing on December 1st, 2006?

My friends and I here at Stem Legal were doing all the things respectable Canadians were doing at the time: starting families, building communities, and consulting or working in the legal marketplace. I imagine myself downloading Nelly Furtado tracks from iTunes, Emma lining up to see a Da Vinci Code/Night At The Museum double feature at the local cinema, and Jordan binge-watching his DVD collections of High School Musical and Ugly Betty. The iPad was still three years away, the first Android smartphone had just been released, and Facebook still forced you to start your status updates with “is.” Yes, those truly were innocent times.

In the fabled spirit of optimism and possibility of 2006, I took a chance and decided to publish the Canadian Law Blog Awards, known then, as they still are today, as the Clawbies. When the Clawbies were first assembled, the purpose was simple: to create a fun and engaging way to encourage more participation in the Canadian legal blogosphere. At the time, the whole concept of Canadian legal blogging was still emerging; today, the list at lawblogs.ca is closing in on 500. Our original lineup of winners in 2006 included David Canton, Michael Geist, Vincent Gautrais, Allison Wolf, David Fraser, Neil Melliship and Melissa Kluger — clicking those links will take you to a series of interviews conducted by my colleague Emma Durand-Wood about what blogging continues to mean to these winners, ten years later.

So 2015 is a big year for us, and today is a big day. Because we’re very happy to announce the official opening of the 10th Annual Canadian Law Blog Awards! It’s our celebration of excellence in law-related blogging in Canada (and beyond). We want to honour the very best of the Canadian legal blogosphere: the most interesting, timely and helpful law or legal-industry-related blogs on the internet. The Clawbies are a crowdsourced effort that relies on the enthusiastic participation and support of Canada’s legal social media and blogging communities. But before you nominate, please understand our quirky rules:

Rule No. 1: Do not nominate your own blog for a Clawbie. It doesn’t work that way. The only surefire way of getting your work on our radar is to write a blog post about other bloggers. Follow this rule and your blog will be taken into consideration automatically.

Rule No. 2: Nominating a blog must happen in one of two ways:

(a) Write a post nominating up to three Canadian law blogs you currently read, with a brief explanation of why you think those blogs deserved an award in 2015.

(b) Tweet your nomination on Twitter, using the hashtag #clawbies2015

The categories are the same as last year — here’s a link to last year’s awards to bring you up to speed.

Rule No. 3: Don’t forget to look outside our borders. Each year we bestow a Clawbie to both a US-based and European blog, so be sure to let us know about your favourite blogs from around the globe.

Not sure where to start? Head over to lawblogs.ca, the comprehensive directory of Canadian law blogs: choose your favourite categories and start reviewing what’s out there. Once again, your Clawbie judges will be yours truly, Jordan Furlong, and Simon Fodden. We’re also welcoming our colleague Emma Durand-Wood into the judging fold. As the administrator of Lawblogs.ca, she sees more new blogs every year than any of us!

For the past decade, the Clawbies have allowed us to celebrate the best of Canadian legal blogs. We truly see value in how blogging has impacted legal commentary; how first-person opinion-driven writing has inspired digital conversations and opened up the web for the sharing of ideas. So this year, on the 10th anniversary of our little project, we’ll also celebrate the Canadian blawgosphere itself. You folks do great work, and we’re proud to shine a light on it.

One last important piece of information. The deadline for nominations is Wednesday, December 23, and we’ll announce the winners of the 2015 Clawbies on New Year’s Eve.

The rest is up to you. Start your nominating!