The Importance of Keeping Complete Client files

Do you keep a complete copy of your client files?  If not, does your reasoning fall into one of the following categories:

 

Let’s consider these arguments individually.

Rationale: I don’t want to store the paper

Agreed!  I don’t blame you one bit.  Talk about inconvenient!

  • You could keep files at home, but no one wants to do that and some of us don’t have the space.
  • You could keep files in your office, but it can look like a clutter bomb went off.
  • This leaves the expensive option: keeping files off-site.

Solution: Scan your closed files

The easiest solution is to stop adding to the problem.  Resolve to scan your closed files starting this year.  Most practitioners will need a scanner for Oregon eCourt.  Put it to work as a file retention tool.

Rationale: Scanning is too time consuming

If your paper files aren’t “scanner” friendly, digitizing them at closing time can be tedious and time-consuming.

Solution: Make your life easier and scan as you go

Scanning paper as you receive it means all file materials are electronic from the start and the work is done automatically over the life of the file.  In fact, if you “scan as you go,” there is no reason not to simply be paperless.

After scanning, paper can be:

  1. Shredded
  2. Given to the client
  3. Kept for a designated amount of time in a general chron file
  4. Kept for a designated amount of time in simplified client file (e.g., dropped into an expanding file folder)

Exceptions may apply to certain types of originals.  See the PLF File Retention Guidelines, available on the PLF website.

Rationale: The court has all my pleadings

This is a specific example of the argument that if someone else has a copy of the documents stored in my file, I don’t need to retain my set.

Solution: Keep it real

No one else possesses your exact client file, as you gathered it, for the purpose you gathered it.

When you decide that it isn’t necessary to keep copies of the documents you filed in court, the medical records used to prove your client’s damages, or some other part of your file on the grounds that “someone else has a copy,” you are taking a huge risk.

Many a lawyer has regretted the decision not to keep records because “they were available elsewhere.”  For example, the lawyer who said he withdrew from a case long before a judgment was entered against his former client.  The lawyer claimed he withdrew, but had no documentation in his file.  The court’s Register of Actions showed receipt of a letter from the lawyer seeking to withdraw, but when a PDF of the court file was obtained, there was no letter.  Maybe the letter never made it into the paper file.  Or perhaps it was missed when the file was scanned.

Regardless, the moral of the story is pretty apparent: anyone (including a court clerk) can misplace, misfile, or lose a document.  Never rely on another person or entity to keep your records.  PLF claim files are replete with similar examples.

In the event of a legal malpractice claim, it may be crucial to prove what you did nor did not have in your file.  And while it may be possible to obtain duplicate records, doing so does not establish they were previously in your possession.

Additionally, defending the practice of discarding part of your file can be quite uncomfortable at deposition or in front of a jury.  Jurors hold lawyers to a high standard and often naturally have sympathy for the plaintiff bringing a claim.  If your testimony shows that you shredded part of your file, jurors may draw the wrong conclusion about your motives.  Play it safe and keep your complete file.

All Rights Reserved [2015] Beverly Michaelis

 

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Keeping Complete Client files

  1. Pingback: "AvoidAClaim" Blog | The Importance of Keeping Complete Client Files

  2. Pingback: The Year in Review – Top Posts in 2015 | Oregon Law Practice Management

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