New Publication: ‘Legal Records at Risk: a Strategy for Safeguarding our Legal Heritage’

Front cover of the published report Legal Records at Risk listing title with an image of a pile of books behind

This post was first published on 17/09/2019.

Author: Claire Cowling, IALS Archivist

The three-year Legal Records at Risk project, based at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, commenced in September 2015 to:

  • Broaden the concept of “legal” records from their traditional definition as court records or deeds to the business records of private sector institutions specialized to law (ISLs), including arbitration and mediation services, barristers, insolvency practitioners, legal executives, licensed conveyancers, multi-disciplinary practices, notaries, patent attorneys, pro bono legal services, scriveners, solicitors, trade mark attorneys and providers of ancillary services such as law publishers and legal stationers.
  • Identify and facilitate the rescue of legal records of potential value which may be at risk through globalization, digital obsolescence, physical neglect, lack of interest on the part of information owners or reduced archival resources to rescue records.

The published report, Legal Records at Risk: a Strategy for Safeguarding our Legal Heritage, is the culmination of the project. It summarises the work of the project and its predecessors, diagnoses the problems of preservation of archives in the legal sector in England and Wales and outlines a national strategy for such records, which we hope will form part of a national strategy for private sector records generally to be led by The National Archives. The appendices, together with the project website, link: bring together a unique collection of detailed information about legal institutions and their records.

Several themes run through the report: perhaps the most important is that archives are one aspect of records management, which in turn is one aspect of information management; that records management is a process that should start with the initial creation of a record (minutes, emails), that this ‘cradle to grave’ (or archival ‘heaven’) approach requires the services of trained professionals (archivists/records managers); that these services are cost-effective and different from ‘archiving’ by IT specialists; and that within the legal sector there is a general lack of awareness of and indifference to these points.


Clare Cowling

Clare Cowling is the IALS Archivist and an experienced archivist and records manager who has worked in several parts of the legal sector over many years.