News

What should we do with the Inns of Court’s empty law libraries?

By on

Middle Temple’s library alone costs £725,000-a-year to maintain — and is quieter than ever now all those books are available online

dangcopy

First the government had a pop at public libraries as part of its post-financial crisis austerity programme — now England’s former top judge is targeting the majestic versions at the Inns of Court for possible belt tightening.

Igor Judge — who stood down as Lord Chief Justice a year ago and is now the treasurer of Middle Temple — highlighted in a recent lecture the cost of library maintenance. His concerns have prompted Legal Cheek to continue its programme of providing useful suggestions to the legal professional bodies for dealing with their ornate, beautiful but costly buildings.

Writing in his fortnightly column for the Law Gazette, Joshua Rozenberg reported on Lord Judge’s remarks pointing out that the annual running costs of the Middle Temple library come in at the thick end of a quarter of a million knicker.

Enhancing the point is the fact that Middle Temple is not alone in operating a dusty home for old leather-bound tracts on land law and the finer points of contract. Inner Temple, Lincoln’s and Gray’s inns are all in the library game as well — and one imagines their book-harbouring costs are similar to the figure at Middle Temple.

librarys

Moreover, smack in the middle of that library square is the Law Society’s own book depository in Chancery Lane, creating something of a congestion of law tomes in the heart of legal London.

Rozenberg points out that the inns’ libraries were created in a vastly different era, when barristers spent hours squinting over pages of law reports under the light of a green-shaded oil lamp. Today, the simply flip open a laptop and click on bailii.org.

So what to do with the libraries? According to Rozenberg, Lord Judge is engaging in a bit of blue sky thinking by suggesting they “needed to become more like business centres”. Rozenberg says Lord Judge reckons that will mean more than just upgrading wifi connections and getting in some fashionable Scandinavian furniture:

“It means providing secure storage space so that out-of-town lawyers can leave papers overnight. It means providing soundproof booths where users can make and receive calls on their mobiles. And some conference rooms would be useful too.”

Legal Cheek welcomes the opening of the debate from Lord Judge, and suggests the Inns and the Law Society go a step further. Following our call for society to flog its highly valuable grace-and-favour Georgian townhouse for its president and put the money towards assisting law students, we suggest the Inns and Chancery Lane co-operate on the library issue.

They should combine resources in one super legal profession library that would be open to barristers, solicitors, law students and even potentially members of the public. And then convert the remaining four buildings into commercial conference centres and meeting rooms, available for hire generally, but at a discount to members of the legal profession or law student organisations.

Hey presto, suddenly a collection of overheads becomes a profit centre.