Digital File Retention

 

If your answer to the poll was “yes,” or “I should,” give yourself a pat on the back.

If you don’t have a digital file retention policy, or more specifically, don’t believe you need a policy, please consider the following:

The more data you store, the more you must protect, and it isn’t free

Data protection is costly and doesn’t end with buying a server. If your firm stores digital files in-house, you must maintain your investment.  This means replacing obsolete storage media, preserving and testing backups, purchasing cybersecurity coverage, investing in and updating security software, budgeting for internal or outsourced IT services, and recovering from data theft, data breach, or system crashes if they occur. Cloud storage may alleviate some of this, although best practices dictate that cloud storage should be secondary to keeping on-premise copies of your data.

The duty to safeguard

Protection isn’t just a matter of out-of-pocket expenses, it has real ethical significance:

Taken together, Rule 1.6(c) and Rule
5.3 require a lawyer to take steps to prevent
disclosure of client information
through the misuse of technology, by
themselves or by any technology vendor
on which the lawyer relies. A lawyer’s
reasonable efforts to protect client data
might include reviewing a third-party
vendor’s terms of service to ensure that
they comply with industry standards relating
to confidentiality and security, and
that those standards are consistent with
the lawyer’s own professional obligations.

Mark Johnson Roberts, “Electronic Competence: As Technology Advances, So Must a Lawyer’s Understanding of It,” OSB Bulletin (June 2017).

If you place no limitations on digital file storage and something bad happens, more client data is exposed. Why would you want to take that risk?

Keep it and retrieve it

If you get into the perpetual storage business, be prepared to retrieve what you keep. Adhering to file retention recommendations and ethical requirements is one thing. Digging up records from 20, 30, or 40 years ago because you’ve chosen not to enforce a destruction policy is something else.

Setting reasonable digital file retention policies

For guidance on file retention, contact your local ethics hotline or professional liability carrier.  In Oregon, the following resources are available from the Professional Liability Fund. Select Practice Management > Forms.

  • Checklist for Scanning Client Files
  • File Retention and Destruction Guidelines
  • Production of Client File
  • Retention of Electronic Records

Mid-size and larger firms should consider a membership in ARMA, the Association of Records Managers and Administrators.  Another good resource is AIIM, the global community of information professionals.

All Rights Reserved 2018 Beverly Michaelis

 

 

How Long Do You Need to Keep Closed Files?

A fair question posed recently on the NW Sidebar blog.

As in Oregon, there is no rule for file retention in Washington. The only exception? Trust accounting records: five years from termination of representation in Oregon; seven years in Washington.

Guidance for Oregon Lawyers

So where can Oregon lawyers go for answers?  The best resource can be found on the Professional Liability Fund website.  Select Practice Management > Forms > File Management > File Retention and Destruction Guidelines.

Files should be kept for a minimum of 10 years as protection against legal malpractice claims. To learn more about ethical recordkeeping practices, see Ethical Guidelines for Client Files.

Guidance for Washington Lawyers

The NW Sidebar post suggests a four step approach:

  • Start with the Guide to Best Practices for Client File Retention and Management on the WSBA website
  • Check with your Washington malpractice insurance carrier
  • Consider the nature of each case (some immigration cases may be “live” 20 years from the time of initial representation)
  • Weigh the possibility of malpractice or discipline claims

In Oregon, the latter drives the minimum 10 year retention recommendation.

Multi-Jurisdictional Practices

Lawyers who practice in both states (or other states) may choose to keep files in conformance with each jurisdiction’s recommended practices or apply the strictest retention requirement.  Universal retention practices are easier to follow and enforce. Jurisdiction-specific retention practices may allow for earlier disposal of files.

What to do Now

Every firm should have documented file retention practices and a file closing checklist. Need a place to start? Consult the Guide to Best Practices for Client File Retention and Management on the WSBA website or use the Professional Liability Fund retention guidelines referenced above and the PLF sample File Closing Checklist.  [Available on the PLF website at Practice Management > Forms > File Management.]

Creating and using a file closing checklist ensures consistency and makes the file retention process easier for lawyers and staff.

All Rights Reserved – Beverly Michaelis -2017

Last Call: Ethical Guidelines for Client Files – June 7, 2017 CLE

Don’t miss “Ethical Guidelines for Client Files” on June 7, 2017.  Learn about OSB Formal Ethics Opinions 2016-191 – Client Property: Electronic-Only or “Paperless” Client Documents and 2017-192 – Client Property: Duplication Charges for Client Files, Production or Withholding of Client Files.

What are lawyers required to produce and when?

  • In some cases, lawyer notes and communications must be produced, in other instances they can be withheld: do you know the difference?
  • If you store data in proprietary law office software (e.g. in a docketing or practice management program), must you extract and convert the data for the client?
  • What circumstance might provoke disclosure of “confidential” information belonging to another client?
  • Can you refuse to deliver file material on the grounds that it is too burdensome or expensive to produce?
  • Is it possible to deliver less than the “entire client file” if the client consents?
  • Are you required to produce work product? Conflict information? Time and expense records? Reports about the client’s creditworthiness? Expert witness information? Metadata? Text messages?

Standards governing retention and storage of client files – Is it ethical to store client files electronically? Do any exceptions apply? What duties does a lawyer have when using electronic-only storage?

When to charge for locating, segregating, or duplicating file material – When you can (and can’t) pass costs on to the client, whether client originals can ever be destroyed, and your ethical responsibilities to the “impecunious client.”

Appreciate the difference between ethical duties and discoverability – The interplay of the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct vs. state and federal rules of civil procedure.

Throughout the program “best practice” tips will be shared.

Date/Time/Location

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Pacific Time.  This is a live, online webinar. Watch from your desktop computer or mobile device. Connect to audio via telephone or computer/device speakers.

Who Should Attend?

Lawyers, office managers or administrators, staff – anyone interested in learning more about Oregon’s new formal ethics opinions, 2016-191 and 2017-192.

Does the Program Include Written Materials?

Yes.  Written materials will be distributed electronically to all registered attendees before the event.

Ask Questions/Participate in Live Polling

Questions are welcome during the live event.  Attendees are also encouraged to participate in live, anonymous polling.

Registration Fee

$25 – Visit the Upcoming CLE page or click here, or choose the Register button below. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted. Program materials included in the registration price.

Eventbrite - Ethical Guidelines for Client Files

MCLE Credits
1.5 Ethics MCLE Credits pending.

Can’t Attend?

Video and audio recordings of Ethical Guidelines for Client Files will be available to download along with the program materials following the June 7 CLE. Price: $25. Contact me or visit my online CLE store after June 7.

All Rights Reserved [2017] Beverly Michaelis