A take on Jack of Kent’s defence of law libraries

Law Blogger and English lawyer, David Allen Green, writing as Jack of Kent, has posted a robust blog in the defence of law libraries and law librarians. Coming from a lawyer’s keyboard, it is a heartening read.

The full post by Jack of Kent can be read here.

It begins with a statement of why the existence of law libraries are in the public interest as a “leveller” in a system often cast askew through various privilege levels. A law library, in essence, gives equal access of good information for all legal practitioners on behalf of their clients.

The post continues with reasons for keeping the proper working usage of library space and it concentrates on the importance of trained information staff within that space.

There is only so much even the most experienced lawyer can know about legal materials and where to find them. An experienced law librarian will not only be familiar with the queries all lawyers tend to have (and so can use that experience to save the time of everyone) but will invariably be able to assist in solving the most esoteric of research problems. A good law librarian is not only responsive; he or she will anticipate the changing needs of lawyers and ensure new materials (physical and electronic) are readily available. And it is a simple truth that one cannot have good law librarians without having good law libraries for them to work in; it is not a “transferable skill” which can be somehow developed just on a training course.

It pinpoints the root of an argument against the over-reliance of online databases:

To rely on electronic databases is to make the lawyer the hostage of the whims of a handful of highly expensive vendors and their licensors.

A view complementing a blog by Ruth Bird on the subject of physical items still having a place on library shelves:

When online subscriptions are cancelled, you may lose access to everything you have paid for over the lifetime of your electronic subscription. People may joke about endless back-sets of National Geographic filling thrift shops, but with those, you subscribed for some years, you cancelled the sub, but you still had the tangible items you had paid for.

If you had bought an electronic subscription to the same magazine in the early 1990s you may have received issues on 5 and a quarter inch floppy disks. By 2000 you would no longer have had a computer that could read these disks. The same sub in the late 90s could have come on the 3 and a half inch floppy, and by 2005 no new computer could read it either.

In all this time your book or magazine in paper could have sat untouched on its bookshelf, but when you came back to it, the technology was still functional.”

It is important to understand how information is managed, curated and sensitively balanced in any working library collection. It is vital to understand where information comes from, how it is created and how it is maintained for use. Information professionals are best positioned not only to do this, but for educating library users in these aspects.

The opinion of Jack of Kent, as a whole, is framed in the context of a proposal to alter and substantially reduce the extent and collection of the Inner Temple Library for increased training and consultation rooms. This plan has been highlighted by BIALL and an online petition can still be signed via “Save the Inner Temple library” a site created for support to oppose the alterations.

Once space is taken from a law library, rarely is it replaced elsewhere or returned later.

…… ~ ……

The SLLG Blog would like to take one point Jack of Kent makes yet further, if we might be allowed.

We might change “Finally, a good law library needs law librarians” to rather: “Foremost, law librarians are needed for a law library to be good”. Just as a law library improves with resources, so too does the law librarian improve with support, having collaborative input in the design of the service, and the opportunity to develop thinking and skills in any professional direction available.

It is always the SLLG’s opinion that most valuable resource of any library is the librarian staff and they should be treated as such.

Bird, R. 2015, Libraries – the Value of Just in Case, Not Just in Time, viewed 15 September 2015.

Green, D.A. 2015, In praise of law libraries, and why defending Inner Temple law library matters, viewed 15 September 2015.

Short follow-up to the SLLG Blog “McClure Naismith: an SLLG member’s point of view”

The SLLG Blog post “McClure Naismith” has been visited on over 260 occasions. To put this into perspective, the usual reader statistic for a post on here is 4.

It was viewed 102 times on the day it was uploaded, alone.

The SLLG Blog and Twitter account did receive some feedback on the post and one of the responses included a link to the Legal Support Network, which looks like an interesting forum for law information professionals. More feedback is always welcomed on this and on any of our posts.

We want to say thanks.

To those who read and shared our brief blog referencing the forgotten support staff in the law circle narrative of the law firm’s demise, we are extremely grateful. Given the topic, it was one of those occasions where participation certainly made the point better than the blog post itself.

McClure Naismith: an SLLG member’s point of view

Our Twitter account, @scotlawlibs, has been curating the developing news of Scots law firm, McClure Naismith which announced on its website late on Friday that it had entered administration with redundancies a certainty.

McClure Naismith’s situation has so far followed a familiar route for larger Scots law firms who have fallen away in the previous few years:

The SLLG Twitter Team has been admirably highlighting the stark lack of comment so far by all sources regarding the plight of support staff involved. They have been given no formal voice in this.

There is a straightforward reason. Law firm professional support staff have no equal help, support structure or opportunity available to solicitors, should the Firm enter administration. It’s not the Firm’s fault, it’s just how the system operates.

The situation support staff find themselves in when Scots law firms go into administration is expertly narrated in this heartfelt and instructive blog post, “Who supports the support staff?”

Where lawyers can be fitted into firms who want their client base and expertise (and, likely, good PR for themselves) – crucial support staff have far less mobility within the legal sector.

The community of Scottish law librarians is a small one. Not many firms expand their supporting resources to match their solicitor and client intake from a defunct firm.

Some will be fortunate but the most likely outcome for critical specialist support staff such as law librarians and knowledge managers is they will have nowhere to move to within the legal sector. In some scenarios, leaving a professional information career altogether as employment in the wider information field diminishes, will be the only option.

Law information professionals are key support staff for all law firms. They are qualified experts: trained in the art of locating and presenting good information. A well-resourced information professional can respond to enquiries authoritatively, effectively and flexibly. They provide information efficiency for a busy lawyer. And efficiency equals value.

Losing this pool of intellect and commitment from a firm and even the legal sector should be worth at least a footnote come the roll call.

To date the SLLG has received no responses to our tweets about McClure Naismith’s support staff from any professional legal body.

Lord Gill’s Valedictory Addresses, 26 May 2015

Your faithful SLLG correspondent was fortunate to be in attendance at the Scottish Legal Profession’s official send-off to the retiring Lord President, the Rt. Hon. Lord Gill, held in Court 1 of the Court of Session this week.

A large attendance representing almost certainly every facet of the administration of law in Scotland listened to speeches in celebration of Lord Gill’s legal career. An extensive career, Lord Carloway stated as one of both record and “legend”.

Lord Gill sat in the middle of a full Bench, flanking him in all their red robed and white wigged finery. The Office Bearers of the Faculty of Advocates sat opposite in full battle dress in the front row of the court, the Faculty Treasure’s ceremonial purse and Dean’s staff of office symbolically at their sides. Behind them were the presidents and officers of law societies. The court clerks stood attentive to their roles but unobtrusively so, in the periphery. Advocates, solicitors, trainees, school children and all and sundry fitted into the public gallery.

There was, then, an unmistakable air of solemnity about the occasion. The speeches offered nothing in the way of the ‘elbow-jab-to-the-ribs’ joviality expected at many office retirement parties; however, measured, they came across as genuine and heartfelt. It made you wonder if this is the same practiced tone used toward the accused when it gets to the brass tacks of the sentencing bit.

Lord Carloway lamented the imminent loss of Lord Gill’s clarity of vision, inclusivity and compassion within the legal fraternity but stated his belief that the court reforms Lord Gill created and has overseen will stand as a working monument of his character for decades to come.

Your correspondent was equally lucky to witness Lord Gill’s installation to the position Lord President in what seems like no time ago. And indeed, relatively in Lord Gill’s career, it is the case.

Lord Gill was admitted into the Faculty of Advocates in 1967 and leaves Parliament House from the senior position of Lord President, which he has held since 2012. Between these two markers, Lord Gill was Keeper of the Advocates Library from 1987 to 1994; something which was well noted in the speech presented by the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates.

Mr. Wolffe, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, offered up the examples of three books, taken directly from the Advocates Library shelves that very morning, as pillars of Lord Gill’s contribution to Scots Law.

First was Grotius’ De jure belli ac pacis libri tres (published 1642). A volume Lord Gill himself authorised the Advocates Library to purchase in 1991, while Keeper. Second, the Dean held up Lord Gill’s own work, The Law of Agricultural Holdings in Scotland (now entering its 4th edition). Third, the Dean admitted inevitably, was Lord Gill’s report reviewing the administration of the civil court.

Finally, the Dean laid out one more item held by the Advocates Library: Lord Gill’s handwritten musical score of Populus Sion, an anthem he composed and which was performed in St Peter’s Basilica in 2006 under his direction. With this, the Dean closed, he hoped to represent Lord Gill’s continued passion outside the law’s hold for him.

The President of the Law Society of Scotland praised Lord Gill’s judgement, Glasgow-born wit and pragmatism in the role of Lord President.

Lord Gill replied to these speeches with his own retiring speech, in his own easy low-key, and yes, retiring delivery. Reflective, he thanked those who worked with him during his years in Parliament House, taking purposeful time to highlight and thank the staff, on which the Scottish legal system relies, for their professionalism and commitment – sometimes to their personal sacrifice – to aid the lawyers, Advocates and Judges. Fortunate to be able to say he did a job in a profession he always found stimulating and still loves, and leaving with happy memories, Lord Gill finally wished everyone well and adjourned the court.

Although the Court of Session is well open to criticism for being a rather starched environment, there was something still to be admired about this ceremony. The traditional formality, the eulogising and the politeness seemed fitting for such an occasion. While Lord Gill leaves a raft of modern innovations which will affect those in Scotland who have dealings with the process of law for many years to come, it was appropriate in this brief moment to see those involved in highest processes of it maintain a sobriety in upholding a respect of the system they work in for the wider society.

Lord Gill retires on 31st May. To learn more about the Senators of the College of Justice, you might like to visit the Scottish Judicial website’s information page about their work.