Increasing access to justice with 70,000 books

January 26, 2023

In this episode, Legislate meets Katrina Crossley, Chief Executive of the International Law Book Facility. Katrina shares some background on the charity's mission to provide good quality second-hand legal textbooks donated by the UK legal community to not-for-profit organisations in need of legal resources across the globe. Katrina also explains how shipping contracts are very customer facing and not dredged in legalese.

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Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate Podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in property, technology, business building and contract drafting. Today I'm excited to welcome Katrina Crossley, Chief Executive of the International Law Book Facility. The ILBF provides good quality second-hand legal textbooks donated by the UK legal community to not-for-profit organisations in need of legal research resources across the globe. Would you like to share a bit of background about yourself and the ILBF?


Katrina Crossley: Thank you very much, Charles, and thank you for inviting me to the podcast. I studied Law and then I qualified as a barrister. I went to work for Butterworths, which then became LexisNexis, and whilst I was there I developed content for lawyers initially in print and then as we shifted online and we digitised everything I started to create online products and digital tools for lawyers and practitioners. Whilst I was there, at LexisNexis, or Butterworths as it was, I started to work with Book Aid International who had a law programme running. It was through that connection with Book Aid International that I then met the lawyers who went on to found the International Law Book Facility, so I've been really involved with it since the start. We got together in about 2003 and finally launched the book charity in 2005. When I left LexisNexis in 2015 I carried on volunteering for the ILBF and then became Chief Executive in 2016.


Charles Brecque: What's been your favourite moment with the ILBF?


Katrina Crossley: Gosh, that is a difficult question to answer. I'm sure everyone says that. For me it's feedback from the recipients of the books because that is the most important thing that we're doing. We're getting books to people who need them. I suppose if I can pick out two rather than one, but the first one was going to visit the Central Law Library in Kathmandu in Nepal in 2016. Not that long after the earthquake and seeing the devastation caused to the Law Library by the earthquake, but the fact that the lawyers and the students were still using the tools to research, books to research, despite the fact that they were surrounded by broken walls and shelves that were falling off the wall, and that kind of thing. To see their passion for studying and the importance of having access to information. I'm happy to say that since that time the library has been repaired but it was a real privilege to meet people using the books and the resources that we had sent in-person. The second I suppose would be receiving videos from some of our recipients, one in particular very recently from a lawyer in Rwanda based in Kigali who sent us the most wonderfully enthusiastic video, which really spoke volumes about the value of the books to them and that was very important. Really that's why we're doing it, my favourite moments.


Charles Brecque: It says on your website that you've managed to send over 70,000 books across the globe. How do you send 70,000 books across the globe?


Katrina Crossley: Essentially the books are donated by institutions in the UK, so it can be individual lawyers, law firms, barrister chambers, law courts, universities and we essentially match the books that are donated to us to the recipients who want those particular resources and we organise the shipping. It's generally volunteers who pack the books and then we use a shipper to collect them and then send them by sea freight, we tend to use sea freight because it's the most economical way to do it. Then their books are received up the other end. We think in the time we've been doing this we've shipped to 54 different countries, which always astounds me. I think, 'Is it really true?' I have to go and count again that it's 54 and I think we may be going up to 56 because we're having a couple of applications from countries we've not shipped to before. It's a process. We try to get about between 12 and 15 shipments a year and they vary from 20 boxes to 200 boxes. The goal is to meet what the recipients want.


Charles Brecque: I imagine in this whole process there are some unique challenges that the ILBF faces. Are there any you can share?


Katrina Crossley: I suppose the first challenge was where do we start? Do we collect the books or do we get the recipients, or do we get the recipients and then the books? We eventually worked that out and books started to come in and then we started to get people making applications, so that was the first challenge. Then I suppose the biggest challenge in some sense is that we don't have an office, we're very much a virtual organisation. We rely very heavily on our partners to provide some storage space for the books, governance. Our trustees and patrons lend their expertise to help us strategically and we rely very heavily on volunteers, as I was saying. I suppose overcoming those challenges is really about building enthusiasm and there is a huge amount of enthusiasm out there for what we do and a tremendous amount of goodwill from all of our partners, from right across the legal community from law students just beginning their studies right up to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, who launched our essay competition for students back in November when we had our 15th anniversary. The full spectrum of the legal community is behind us and, yes, we're really grateful for that support.


Charles Brecque: What do you wish you had known before joining the ILBF or when you were still at LexisNexis?


Katrina Crossley: I didn't join a functioning organisation, it's grown up with me because it didn't exist before I joined, if that makes sense. I suppose I would say I wish I had more confidence at the time to ask for help because I think one is sometimes a bit intimidated by asking very eminent people for help but actually I've learnt that you can ask because the worst that's going to happen is someone is going to say no, and generally speaking they do say yes. I suppose that was what I wish I had been more confident of at the time.


Charles Brecque: You're sending physical books. Are you considering to build a digital library for your global community? Are there reasons why that isn't something you're planning?


Katrina Crossley: I guess I would say we absolutely believe that legal tech is a huge opportunity for increasing access to justice and diversity in the profession, and that's essentially what we're about. We want to make sure that access to justice is resourced as well as it can be and we know that as technology develops what we do as an organisation is a very important bridge between that point at which countries and organisations further down the track will have access to better tech, and where they are now which may be that they don't have much in the way of resource or few resources. We're an important bridge to that evolution and we'd like to think that in the future there will be no necessity for the International Law Book Facility. We'd like to be redundant at some point but I think that's a long way down the track. There is still a huge appetite for books because Internet connections aren't always as stable as they could be and access to online subscriptions is a bit beyond a lot of organisations because of the cost. I think there will always be a place for books, as Richard Susskind was saying at our launch event last year. We are thinking about how is it that we might be able to support that access to digital materials in the future.


Charles Brecque: Have you interacted with any contracts throughout your career and were there any common areas of friction you had to overcome?


Katrina Crossley: Yes, so that's a very good question. I would say that on a personal level aside from the ILBF, yes, I've interacted with a number of contracts, particularly when I was freelance. I was a freelance editor, project manager and so forth and very often those freelance contracts were derived from US contracts, mainly because the companies I was doing that work for were US based and those contracts did not reflect my conditions in the UK, which was frustrating. I suppose, to be honest, the way round it at the time was pretty much to ignore the parts that I had issue with and just be pragmatic. For example, they often had very strict indemnities against any errors I'd make on my part and I needed to be insured but actually I knew that was quite low risk for me because I'm an editor, I'm a good editor so I knew that was not going to be so much of a problem for myself. It was not an ideal solution and it nearly put me off doing the work in the first place. From the ILBF side, I suppose the most common contracts we interact with are shipping agreements, we actually use the same shipper since we first started and it's never been an issue, mainly because they're fairly standard contracts and they're very customer-facing so they're not dredged in legalese that could put you off. It's been so far a positive experience on the ILBF front but as a freelancer I would say it was frustrating.


Charles Brecque: I'm conscious, Katrina, I've already taken a lot of your time. I'm going to ask you the closing question we ask all our guests. If you were being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?


Katrina Crossley: What would impress me is as a starting point, clear English. Clear, understandable English, consistent wording, consistent terminology, not constantly referring to definitions buried somewhere right down at the bottom of the contract. You mentioned small print, I don't know why they call it small print because actually if something is a contract term it should be there upfront right in front of you so that you can see it and understand it. I think that making contracts that are relevant to the contractor's circumstances, having a proportionate approach to risk, being pragmatic. I think those are the things that would impress me. I hope that's answered the question.


Charles Brecque: I always seem to find the answers to these questions described part of what Legislate is trying to do. At Legislate we definitely try to write in plain English. Sometimes it is difficult to simplify legalese but starting with clarity is a key point for impressive contracts. Thank you very much, Katrina, for your time and for sharing those stories about the ILBF. Best of luck shipping many more thousands of books.


Katrina Crossley: Thank you, it's been a great pleasure and thank you very much for inviting me.



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