Law Office: Legal Document Management & Your PracticePosted on July 5, 2018
Knowing how long to hang onto files can be a bit tricky.
On one hand, you don’t want to keep everything forever, but on the other hand, certain files must be kept for a minimum length of time, either for safety’s sake, or in some cases, as mandated by law. This is especially true for medical and legal documents.
So how long should you retain files? What’s the best method of reviewing files to be destroyed, and what in-house equipment is required to securely dispose of files?
How Long Should You Keep Files?
Your firm should already have a retention and destruction policy in place. If it does not, one should be implemented as soon as possible. Some guidelines follow. Keep in mind that the Law Society of British Colombia does not have a set policy. For you to decide on your own retention policy, you should consider the following:
- The area of law that you and others in your firm practices
- The specific needs of your clients
- Statutory requirements
- The applicable limitation period—typically two years following the plaintiff becoming aware of the basis of the claim
In many situations, the minimum suggested retention period is six years, however there will be times when documents should be held longer, even permanently. For example, in the case of a 10-year commercial mortgage, one would not be advised to destroy files after 6 years, as there would remain a period of four years during which issues may arise.
You may find some guidelines for retention periods HERE.
Documents from closed client files should be kept due to the possibility of action against lawyers. The limitation period may range from 2 years for negligence to no limitation for misconduct or criminal conduct.
The Income Tax Act requires that records and books of account be kept for a period of 6 years, though the Act allows for the records to be stored electronically, provided they are “electronically readable.”
Reviewing Files to be Destroyed
There may be occasions when files that are safe to destroy might be worth keeping. For example, there may be files that aid in maintaining an efficient practice. Important precedents and legal research documents may be found in closed files and could prove valuable in the future. These documents may be kept at your discretion, with the client information deleted or blacked out for security.
When files are designated to be destroyed, the question remains of how it should be handled. Some potential issues that may arise at this time are potential security leaks if they are not destroyed correctly, use of labour involved in completing the task, and potential risk of injury to employees using the shredding equipment. In most cases, it is more logical and economical to employ a shredding service that can either destroy the documents on-site or transport them securely to be destroyed at an industrial shredder.
Files may also be destroyed if they have been stored electronically.
Storing documents electronically is much more economical than maintaining them physically, but you must ensure that all relevant paper documents have been scanned and saved correctly before you close the file, and as with paper files, these documents must be maintained in a way that ensures client confidentiality.
Documents stored electronically must remain readily accessible, as with physical files.
Keeping a record 0f destroyed files, with the name and address of the client, the file number and a brief recounting of all pertinent information is a good idea and can easily be handled electronically.
Disposing of your files need not be difficult, so long as you have a clear retention and destruction policy. When the time comes to destroy your documents, making use of a trusted shredding service like BC Records is a logical decision. BC Records offers safe, secure, and affordable destruction of your sensitive documents, whether on-site or following pickup.