Legal records at risk: is the legal profession interested in its own history?

Our initial research over the first six months of the project suggests not. We have so far contacted 40 institutions specialised to law (ISLs), including law firms, membership bodies, regulatory bodies, alternative dispute resolution bodies, pressure groups, training institutions and ancillary bodies such as legal publishers. We have had only 10 responses (2 negative; 2 positive; 6 tentative).

What did we ask them? These questions:

  • Do you consider that some of your records might be of interest to researchers, either now or in the future? If so, would you consider making them available at an appropriate time (ie once all issues of confidentiality or personal data restrictions have expired)?
  • Do you have an in-house archive? Have you, alternatively, deposited any of your records with an archival repository?
  • If not, would you be interested in depositing records of value with an archival repository, on the understanding that they would be preserved, protected and made openly available for public research at a time specified by yourselves?
  • Would you be interested in seeking advice on identifying your records of value and on the disposal of other records (whose business use has expired) which may be taking up costly storage space?
  • Would you find advice on digital storage and digital continuity useful?

What did we offer in return for their input into the project?

  • A survey of records and recordkeeping practices by a qualified archivist/records manager.
  • Production of a retention and disposal schedule for immediate use, adaptable for future needs.
  • Advice on current recordkeeping to assist efficient business practice and compliance.
  • Reduced need for storage space as records are systematically disposed of.
  • Identification of a possible repository for records of permanent value or advice on how to manage one in-house so as to unlock the research potential of the ISL’s records.
  • Identification of ISLs with similar practices and issues, potentially developing an enhanced community of practice.
  • An enhanced reputation for openness and transparency plus a better understanding of importance of the ISL in the development of the United Kingdom’s legal framework.

We understand that legal practitioners are busy people and that appraising the potential research value of records is rarely a top priority when running a business. Yet managing one’s business records efficiently so as to reduce costs, provide a good service to clients and stop constantly re-inventing the wheel is, or should be, a high priority. Determining and saving what is of archival value is simply the end of that process.

Any suggestions on how we can interest the legal profession in our project?

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