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Record Retention Policy

  Ten Questions to Ask Before You Consider Investing In Case Management Software
Office Filing Systems
Alternative Methods
Record Retention Policy
   Closing Files
   Destroying Files
Designing a System
Equipment Sources
Costs to Budget
Purchase & Install

Establishing a record retention policy for legal services programs entails: when to close and destroy files.

A. Closing Client Files.
Guidelines for closing client files:

1. State Bar Rules. Check with your state bar association or state ethics committee for their opinion. Many have issued guidelines regarding an attorney's obligations to retain records. For example, it is important to save all case records involving minors or juveniles at least until they reach the age of majority.

2. Return Client Papers and Client Monies. Insure that client papers, as well as any remaining client trust funds, are automatically returned. Return these items with a cover letter, and keep a copy of this letter in your file.

3. Destroy Extraneous Documents. Destroy all extra copies of pleadings, correspondence, and reports. The attorney assigned to the case should decide if research notes, drafts and work papers can also be discarded.

4. Review the File for Form Legal Work. Review all files for pleadings, legal memoranda and other legal work that should be reproduced and placed in the program's brief and pleadings file.

5. Check Pubic Record Documents. Check the clerk's office to see that all documents that are public records, such as divorce decrees, final adoption papers, are on file in the courthouse.

6. Check for Correct Address and Phone Number of Client. Check the latest address and phone number in the file against the address in the client card file.

7. Set Standard Closing Interval. Decide on a standard time interval after which most files should be closed. These files can then be moved into closed storage, Any physical relocation of the case files should be noted in a Master Client Index, if one exists.

B. Destroying Files
Space limitations and program growth often make destruction of records a necessary alternative to indefinite storage. This question should be discussed and, if judged desirable, guidelines for record destruction should be established. Putting documents on CD-ROM or on computers preserves the information while eliminating the storage problem.

C. Ethics
File Retention
The issues of what ethical duties an attorney has on retaining former clients’ files and whether an attorney is ethically required to retain the files after representation is over are discussed in Formal Opinion No. 2001-157 of the State Bar of California Standing Committee of Professional Responsibility and Conduct.

“Client File Retention and Ethics” by Ernest Schaal. The Bottom Line, Volume 24, No. 4, August 2003. State Bar of California Law Office Practice Management & Technology.