Last month I went on a tour of the Law Society Library. After having visited three of the four Inns of Court Libraries over the last few years, I was interested to learn more about the library collections held by the Law Society. It is also of practical relevance to some of our students: whilst the library is aimed at solicitors in England and Wales, our Legal Practice Course students are entitled to use it too.
We started off with a talk about the databases offered by the Law Society to its members. As well as Westlaw, Lexis and Justis, they also have a database called PIO (Public Information Online), which I have not seen before. This database contains a big archive of UK parliamentary papers.
The library website itself contains a wealth of information, including the Library Knowledge Base, which as well as being a library catalogue, also offers a range of added extras including:
- A database of Common Queries compiled by the librarians. This contains answers to frequently asked research questions (as you would anticipate!) as well as answers to research queries which were time-consuming and complex, therefore it’s useful to have a record of them in order to save someone performing duplicate research in the future. To demonstrate what kind of information is offered by the database, a search for ‘living will’ provides information on relevant legislation, textbooks, precedents and websites.
- Biographies of historical figures associated with the Law Society.
We were then given a tour of the library itself. As you would expect, it has very impressive collections covering the law of England and Wales. For instance, it holds legal practitioner textbooks dating back to the 16th century. Other jurisdictions that are covered (albeit not to the same depth) are: Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It also holds Commonwealth materials such as the Commonwealth Law Reports, Dominion Law Reports and New Zealand Law Reports.
Like the Inns of Court Libraries, the Law Society Library keeps old editions of books, for solicitors who need to research the state of the law as at a particular point in time. Old editions have a skull and crossbones label to warn library users they are no longer current!
As part of the tour, we were given an insight into some of the work done by the librarians. For example, they offer a research service to their users (whereby the librarians will find relevant books, cases, precedents etc. for their users). The first half hour of research that the librarians do for library members is free of charge. This is a very useful service for the library members and allows solicitors who are based in other parts of the country to get the benefit of the London based library collections.
Another interesting aspect of their work relates to an item in their collection called the Law List. The Law List is a directory of solicitors. But this isn’t just a historical record – it’s also an invaluable tool for tracking down solicitors and law firms. This is something that would need to be done if, for example, you are looking for a will which was drawn up by a firm of solicitors years ago, and that firm is no longer in existence. I liked the detective work aspect of this which the librarians explained to us!
The librarians also like to open up their collections by displaying some of the interesting items that they have. Whilst I was there, they had a display of artifacts relating to the Great Fire of London. They also have a Twitter feed, which is a nice mix of tweets relating to their collection, ‘then and now’ photographs, Friday quizzes, etc.
I really enjoyed my tour of the library. I found it interesting to compare the library collections and services with our own. Also it was useful to find out more about the wonderful resources available to our LPC students!