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


Calling all Marion and Polk County Lawyers

On Saturday, July 26 the Professional Liability Fund (PLF) and Willamette University College of Law (WUCL) are hosting a FREE shred event in Salem at the university.  All Marion and Polk county lawyers are encouraged to participate.  For details, including start time and directions to the shred event, check your email inbox.

Shredding generally continues until the trucks are filled to capacity. Please respect the box per firm limit, so that we can provide this service to as many Marion and Polk county firms as possible. You must wait until your material is shredded and take your boxes back with you. Paper clips and binder clips are okay to shred but 3-ring binders should be removed.

If you have any questions about the July 26 shred event in Salem, please contact DeAnna Shields at 503-639-6911, ext. 440 or

Free shredding services are provided courtesy of the PLF and WUCL.  Mobile shredding trucks from Recall, the PLF’s document management company, will be shredding the materials onsite.




Free Shred Day – Coming Soon to a City Near You?

We hope so!

The Professional Liability Fund has held several successful shred events at the OSB Center, most recently on May 17:

678 bankers boxes shredded


Stretching the equivalent of 24 school buses parked end-to-end


Weighing as much as 2 full-grown hippos with 26 stout offspring


baby h

We are working with Recall, our document storage and destruction provider, to host future shred events in:

  • Salem
  • Bend
  • Eugene
  • Medford
  • Newport or Tillamook
  • La Grande
  • Pendleton

Stay tuned!


Organizing Paper Files

Why am I writing about how to organize your paper files when going “paperless” is all the rage?  Because 6,269 views of Setting Up an Effective Filing System tells me there is still a demand for information on this subject.

I uploaded Setting Up an Effective Filing System to Slideshare three years ago.  The article first appeared in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin in June 2000.  Learning how to organize paper files remains a popular topic because most firms continue to operate hybrid systems.  For some, the paperless part of the practice consists solely of word processing documents and e-mails saved in client folders on the network or computer.  For others, going paperless occurs at the end of the life cycle when the file is closed, contents are scanned, and the paper file shredded or given to the client.  In either case, the active, working file continues to be paper-based.  I am happy to share tips on paper file management because I strongly believe that well-organized paper files lead to well-organized computer files.

Setting Up an Effective Filing System addresses the following topics:

  • Alpha vs. Numeric Filing Systems
  • File Media – Folders vs. Binders
  • How to use Color Coding
  • The Connection Between Files and Client Relations

It also provides examples of how to organize file materials in three practice areas: Corporate, Personal Injury, and Domestic Relations.  The complete article can be downloaded here.

For those who were expecting a follow-up post on how to create Actions in Acrobat, my apologies.  I promise to get there, but was motivated to publish this first as I continue to receive requests for copies of my filing system article.

Copyright Beverly Michaelis 2012