Legal Records at Risk Project
The Legal Records at Risk (LRAR) three-year project at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (School of Advanced Study, University of London) sought to facilitate the rescue for posterity of private sector legal records of archival value in England and Wales.
Taking as its definition of legal records all the records of any institution (or individual) specialised to law, including both business records such as policy material, financial records, membership files, consultation papers and client records such as case/matter files, client documents and legal instrument and including the records of company legal departments and the papers of individual legal practitioners and academic researchers, the project focused on twentieth and twenty-first century records, beginning with the assumption that legal records created in this period risk being lost. This risk is not only due to universal factors affecting all private sector records such as globalisation, mergers and acquisitions, digital obsolescence and neglect but because of issues potentially unique to the legal sector such as an over-emphasis on long-term client confidentiality, a lack of transparency about how the profession conducts its affairs and a very low awareness of information as an asset.
At its close the LRAR project had identified major categories of legal records at risk and the primary obstacles to their rescue. It had noted that most risks to records (especially those caused by poor records management) applied to all categories of private sector records but that one or two were unique to legal records and as such it was primarily the responsibility of the legal sector to address those issues. It found that collection of legal records in the past by archives has been, with one or two notable exceptions, random, ad hoc and dependent on the interest of individuals or finite collection campaigns rather than systematic collections strategies. It recommended both long-term strategies and immediate processes for rescuing legal records but accepted that any achievements would be dependent on a) resources and b) engagement.
LRAR’s main achievement was to encourage and support the development of a national strategy to rescue private sector records, including legal, in collaboration with The National Archives and the British Records Association. It also developed a records management advocacy strategy, aimed at the private sector, with the IRMS. The project’s outcomes and achievements are to be published in book form by the School of Advanced Study.
As part of its project methodology the project undertook the following outreach work:
A number of articles were written for professional legal and archives/records management journals.
Seminars were held at which stakeholders from the three sectors (legal, archival/records management and research) were invited to contribute their ideas and experiences and discuss and recommend solutions to the various issues raised.
Presentations were given to stakeholder institutions.
A number of legal institutions were selected for in-depth case studies which could be used both as exemplars for other legal bodies wishing to manage and dispose of their records more systematically and as pilots for developing a strategy and process for transfer of records of value to archives.
Generic guidance on information and records management, including advice on archiving records, was provided to legal institutions to demonstrate the business benefits of managing and disposing of records effectively and thus to encourage participation in the project.
Details of all the material produced by LRAR will be found on the project website (http://ials.sas.ac.uk/research/areas-research/legal-records-risk-lrar-project). The IRMS has kindly agreed to host some of this material on the IRMS website, including the seminar proceedings, case study reports and generic guidance. We hope that it will prove useful to IRM practitioners, particularly those working for legal institutions.
Clare Cowling, Associate Research Fellow, IALS and LRAR Project Director
Legal Records at Risk Pilot Project - A Case Study of Records and Record-keeping in a Legal Publishing House
Legal Records at Risk Project - Case study: the records of Chadwick Lawrence Solicitors
Legal Records at Risk Project - Case study: Alternative dispute resolution records held by Transport for London
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
Guideline 1: advice currently available to legal institutions on managing records
Guideline 2: advice to legal institutions on disposing of records
Guideline 3: advice to legal institutions on identifying records of permanent research value
Guideline 4: advice to legal institutions on confidentiality and research access to records
Guideline 5: advice to legal institutions on the business benefits of depositing records in an archives
Guideline 6: advice to legal institutions on the business benefits of an information and records management programme
Guideline 7: advice to legal institutions on digital continuity and managing digital records
Guideline 8: advice to legal institutions on managing email
Guideline 9: advice to legal institutions on managing documents in shared network drives
Seminars & Presentations
Legal records, confidentiality and access: breaking down the barriers
The 3rd Legal Records at Risk seminar
Seminar presentation - Clare Cowling
Seminar presentation - Dr Elizabeth Lomas
Seminar presentation - Nicholas Le Poidevin, Q.C.
Centre for Socio-Legal Studies 2nd LRAR seminar “The use of unpublished legal documents in socio-legal research”
Presentation – Clare Cowling
Handout – TfL Case Study
Handout – “Thoughts on archives by a user” Derek Roebuck
Information as an asset: the business benefits to providers of legal services of preserving records
Seminar information pack
Centre for Socio-Legal Studies LRAR Seminar
CSLS LRAR Seminar Programme
Presentation - Clare Cowling
Project notes - Peter Bartlett
Presentation - Bettina Lange
Legal Records at Risk Seminar
Seminar Handout - Professor William Twining
LRAR Presentations at other Seminars
21/05/2018 Information and Records Management Society Annual Conference: “Who cares? Legal records and poor records management”
20/10/2017 UCL ARM seminar: "Collections at Risk – legal records"
23/03/2017 Joint presentation with the BRA to the IRMS Property group: “Legal Records at Risk”
02/03/2017 Presentation to the Legal Regulators’ Research Forum: “Rescuing Regulators’ records – how and why”
01/12/2016: Iron Mountain Legal Forum for law firms: “Notes on the LRAR project and the records of law firms”
19/04/2016 Presentation to the Archives and Society Group - UCL: “Legal Records at Risk”
25/02/2016 Presentation to the Centre for Archives and Records Research (ICARUS) - UCL: “Legal Records at Risk”
10/02/2016 Presentation to The National Archives Collections Rescue Strategy Workshop: “Legal Records at Risk”
30/11/2015 Presentation to the London Archives Partnership (LAP): “The Legal records at Risk project”.
03/11/2015 Presentation to AIM25 (Archives in London and the M25 area) Group “The Legal records at Risk project”.