We talk to the director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) about legal challenges, and the dramatic increase in the need to adapt the law, and understand our rights in an increasingly digital age.

Jules Winterton, who took up the IALS directorship in 2013, is holder of the 2012 Joseph L. Andrews Bibliographical Award from the American Association of Law Libraries for the International Handbook of Legal Information Management, and the 2010 Wildy-BIALL Librarian of the Year award. He is a visiting associate professor at the Kwame Nkrumah University in Ghana, a board member of the Ghana Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, and a member of the Board of LLMC Digital (the online platform of the non-profit Law Library Microform Consortium). He has also served as president of the International Association of Law Libraries.

What does a typical day involve as director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS)?
My job as director of the institute and its world-class library provides huge scope and variety and no typical day. I get to meet people from the leading law schools of the University of London and from all over the world involved in every part of their legal systems, and make many friends. Some examples of what can happen in day include Professor Stephen Offei calling on me during a brief visit to the UK before returning to Ghana where he has established the Ghana Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (GIALS), a sister institute. I learn more about reform of legal education in Ghana and an upcoming national summit. Justice Azahar bin Mohamed from the Federal Court of Malaysia, an LSE graduate, visiting to announce his arrival as Inns of Court Visiting Judicial Fellow. Together we discussed the parallel legal systems emanating from the state and from religious communities in Malaysia and the issues of diversity and justice he planned to research while in the UK.

I log on to a virtual meeting of the Research Committee of the IALS to decide on the appointment of Associate Fellows and to choose which proposal will go forward for our major annual workshop. Then an invitation to serve on a selection panel for the appointment of the Librarian of one of the Inns. I meet with a law professor who is keen to discuss the feasibility of setting up further LLM courses at the institute. Chair’s action is requested of the Institute’s Research Degrees Committee to assist an IALS PhD researcher to progress towards completion. Next, an email from a legal historian who has embarked on a history of the English law school and needs access to the archives of legal education held at IALS. I make an introduction to the archivist and resist the temptation to investigate further. Then a quick dash to Senate House, an almost daily occurrence, this time to discuss fundraising.

Reading this I realise that almost all that I have described is relevant and worthwhile and perhaps of some impact on provision for legal research. But almost none of my description includes the things for which the university probably thinks it pays me. I should therefore add that, much of the above occurs in the interstices between the real duties: budgets, financial forecasts and revised estimates, financial monitoring, monthly accruals, helping make the new finance system work, authorising major transactions, reviewing coding structures, complaining about the new finance system not working, costing new projects, bidding for funds, project management, justifying existing funds, explaining why existing funds are not enough, planning cost reductions, writing strategic plans, business plans, operational plans, marketing plans, space management plans, collection development and management strategies, building management, leases and licences, discussing performance indicators and measures and benchmarks, resource allocation models, programme design, quality assurance and quality assessment, recruitment, systems of appraisal, professional development and training, risk assessment, programmes of convergence, branding and differentiation, unlikely alliances and close partnerships, the progress of commoditisation, the pursuit of excellence, …. Hmm, as usual I seem to have run out of time!

Are there any particular initiatives or projects you are keen to push forward?
One recent initiative is the establishment the Information Law and Policy Centre under the direction of Dr Judith Townend. This area of research exploits long-term interests of the institute in access to information and the dramatic increase in the need to adapt the law, and understand our rights as we live our digital lives. Every day in the newspapers we read about disputes over: how far we can protect our privacy; how far we need surveillance; how much personal data governments and companies can collect, store and process; what digital possessions or records of relatives we can inherit or access; how far are internet providers liable for misuse of data or should be forced to divulge data; in an age of transborder communications, what is legal in one country but not in another, ….

What was your own experience of being a student like?
I studied Classics and English at the University of Kent at Canterbury, one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen. I remember particularly the broad foundation year of philosophy, history and literature. In summer we picked strawberries and learned by taste all the varieties of Shepherd Neame (Britain’s oldest brewer). Later, in Manchester I studied information science and carried out a project to document public health in the 19th century which involved visiting remnants of the industrial history of the city before they disappeared. I studied law rather later through what is now the International Programmes of the University of London, which gave me an otherwise impossible opportunity to study while in a full-time job – evenings, weekends, on the Tube. For the first time I learned to project manage my studies. I have felt a guilty pleasure every time I pick up a book for ‘mere entertainment’ ever since.

What is the focus of your current research?
My research, such as it is (see ‘typical day’ above) revolves around some of the interests of the Information Law and Policy Centre, particularly in the access to legal information. The institute is a member of the international Free Access to Law Movement and is host to the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, the most comprehensive source of free legal information for the jurisdictions of the UK and Ireland. I would like to explore the process over the past 20 years of making legal information more freely available to the profession and to the citizen through developments in electronic delivery and the campaign to make it a responsibility of government rather than a commercial opportunity.

Why do you think an institution like IALS remains relevant today?
The IALS is the only institution which provides a nationally funded facility for legal research in the UK. It not only forms a focus, meeting place and home for academic legal research, it forms a bridge between the academy and the practising legal profession so that research is informed by the practice of law and in turn has an impact in the real world. In an age of mobility of people, goods and information, when globalisation affects almost every transaction in our lives, the law is meeting more challenges than ever before. The institute is an international crossroads for legal research from around the world, where scholars from many legal cultures meet and influence each other while working in the institute’s legal research library. In doing all this it plays a vital role in the support of scholarship and legal education, in the administration of justice, and in the functioning of social systems which adhere to the rule of law.