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 ( 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, an experienced archivist and records manager who has worked in several parts of the legal sector over many years, is the sole author of this report. The inspiration behind the project, however, and its guiding light, was William Twining FBA, QC, FASS, the Emeritus Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London, an established author who has also had a lifelong interest in archives.  The story of the development of his ideas and how they are interrelated is told in Jurist in Context: A Memoir (2019).

Legal Records at Risk: a Strategy for Safeguarding our Legal Heritage’ is an open access publication published by University of London Press.  It is available for download from SAS Humanities Digital Library.