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Legal Records at Risk (LRAR) Project

The Legal Records at Risk (LRAR) project at the IALS was set up to investigate the findings of previous studies, including the British Records Association (BRA) report on Records at Risk (2011), that significant records of many institutions specialised to law (ISLs) are at risk, especially because of recent developments in legal services, IT, economy and globalisation. 

Many records are now “born digital” and many more paper records are being digitised. New technology may solve some problems (eg storage), but is creating new issues (eg digital continuity).

The terms of reference of the project were:

  • To broaden the concept of "legal" records from the traditional definition of them as court records or formal documents such as deeds to records of institutions specialized to law (ISLs), including business records, mainly in the private sector.   Our definition is wide and includes records of all the main types of providers of legal services (including law firms, legal executives, patent agents, licensed conveyancers, court interpreters), arbitration records and the records of ancillary bodies such as legal stationers and law publishers.
  • To identify legal records of potential research value.
  • To identify legal records of potential value which may be at risk through neglect, digital obsolescence, lack of interest or lack of resources to preserve and provide access to the records.
  • To provide generic advice and guidance to information owners. To identify potential repositories for legal records of research value.
  • To facilitate the process by which information owners reach agreement to deposit with or donate records to those repositories.

The project did not collect records but acted as a conduit through which legal records of value (in all formats and media) are identified, preserved and made available for research.  We also undertook case studies, provided expert advice and referrals and held specialist seminars on such matters as:

  • Listing and cataloguing legal records.
  • Developing legal records retention and disposal schedules.
  • Digital archiving and digital continuity of legal records

To encourage benchmarking and collaboration among legal practitioners and the custodians of their records we also, with the agreement of the companies and institutions concerned, published examples of:

  • Best practice.
  • Gaps in knowledge/expertise (eg around archiving and digital continuity).
  • Practical issues caused by lack of resources.
  • Availability of repositories (physical and digital).  

The project was led by Clare Cowling, an experienced archivist/records manager and Associate Research Fellow of the Institute.  You can contact Clare at

The project has been made possible by a generous philanthropic donation.

LRAR Case Studies

Legal Records at Risk Pilot Project - A Case Study of Records and Record-keeping in a Legal Publishing House
Lindsay McCormack, Pilot Project Archivist

Legal Records at Risk Project - Case study: the records of Chadwick Lawrence Solicitors
Clare Cowling, Associate Research Fellow and Project Director

Legal Records at Risk Project - Case study: Alternative dispute resolution records held by Transport for London
Clare Cowling, Associate Research Fellow and Project Director

Legal Records at Risk Project - Case study: Pilot project on construction arbitration records (England and Wales): a preliminary feasibility study for a project on records of arbitration
Compiled by Alan Shipman, LRAR Research Assistant, 25th July 2017
Edited and with additional material by Clare Cowling, LRAR Project Director, 22 August 2017