Law firms’ Records Destruction: What every Lawyer should Know
File Retention dilemma in many legal firms
Private law information custodians are increasingly being drawn into the parallel universe of records management in their firms and corporate law departments, either as the department’s manager or as a researcher in support of the organization’s records retention policy development efforts for itself or for its clients.
Areas of interest:
“Property”has a broad definition and includes a client’s money, securities as defined in the Securities Act, original documents such as wills, title deeds, minute books, licenses, certificates and the like, and all other papers such as client’s correspondence, files, reports, invoices and other such documents, as well as personal property, including precious and semi-precious metals, jewellery, and the like
This guide provides a reference foundation for those file custodians seeking to understand records retention in the private legal environment.
What should a law firm do with its closed file records?
Purposes of file retention
Why should a lawyer keep client file records after the work is finished?
There are statutory, regulatory, ethical, and practical reasons to keep client file records for various lengths of time.
1. Statutory requirements – the client
Governments all over the world have legislation that give guidance on how, when who, and what records to be retained. In some jurisdictions, in as far as the client is concerned, the lawyer should be aware of the provisions and should return to the client any original documents the client is required to retain, with a letter advising the client of the statutory requirements.
Record definition: “record” includes books, documents, maps, drawings, photographs, letters, vouchers, papers and any other thing on which information is recorded or stored by any means whether graphic, electronic, mechanical or otherwise. record” as defined in here, includes metadata associated with an electronic record.
If the client instructs a lawyer to retain the client’s records until the statutory requirements are fulfilled, and the lawyer chooses to accept that responsibility, the lawyer should establish the terms in writing, including who will bear the costs of such retention and when the obligations will end. These matters can be dealt with in the retainer letter or the final closing letter.
2. Regulatory requirements – the lawyer
This is where the Law Society or any other regulating body comes up with rules which include mandatory provisions regarding retention and production of records. There could for example, requirements related to fiduciary property, general funds, trust funds, valuables, cash transactions, complaint investigations, forensic audits, client identification and verification, leaving a firm, storage providers and the security of records. Lawyers should familiarize themselves with the rules that have been put in place and pay attention to the rule changes that may be instituted along the way.
Such rules / regulations may touch on the following, but not exclusively, critical issues such as
- electronic data storage and processing; retention of cash transaction records; definitions of “metadata”, “record” and “supporting document”;
- producing records in a complaint investigation ;
- producing records in a forensic audit ;
- storage providers and security;
- producing and retaining fiduciary property records;
- retention of records of valuables held in trust, etc.
Lawyers are expected to particularly note the required retention periods for various accounting records, fiduciary property, records of valuables and cash records, as well as the requirements with respect to storage providers and security.
A record normally includes the entire client file. A lawyer may maintain records, including electronic records, with a “storage provider” . In this case a “storage provider” means any entity storing or processing records outside of a lawyer’s office, whether or not for payment. If for example a lawyer stores information himself or herself outside of the office, the lawyer is a “storage provider”.
A lawyer must protect his or her records and the information contained in them by making reasonable security arrangements against all risks of loss, destruction and authorized access, use or disclosure.
Closed files / Exiting lawyers
Dealing with closed files is one of the many things to think about when a lawyer leaves a firm. In some jurisdictions, a lawyer may be required, before leaving a firm, to advise in writing how he or she intends to dispose of all of the following that relate to the lawyer’s practice and are in the lawyer’s possession or power:
- open and closed files;
- wills and wills indices;
- titles and other important documents and records;
- other valuables (anything of value that can be negotiated or transferred, including but not limited to securities, bonds, treasury bills, personal or real property,
- trust accounts and trust funds; fiduciary property.
3. Ethical requirements – the lawyer
A lawyer must care for a client’s property as a careful and prudent owner would when dealing with like property, and observe all relevant rules and law about the preservation of a client’s property entrusted to the lawyer. A lawyer is responsible for maintaining the safety and confidentiality of the client’s files in the lawyer’s possession and should take all reasonable steps to ensure the privacy and safekeeping of the client’s information.
The ethical duty of confidentiality: The duty of confidentiality survives the professional relationship and continues indefinitely after the lawyer has ceased to act for the client. Subject to any solicitor’s lien rights, the lawyer is require to promptly return a client’s property to the client on request or at the conclusion of the retainer. A lawyer must clearly label and identify a client’s property and place it in safekeeping distinguishable from the lawyer’s own property.
4. Practical (circumstantial):
(i). Defending against negligence claims
- A user friendly document management policy should be established and followed.
- Appropriately documenting a file in the first place, retaining the file, and retaining the right parts of the file can be crucial in a lawyer’s defense against a liability claim.
- The initial retainer letter, notes of instructions and conversations, telephone records, copies of important papers and correspondence, drafts, and other items are particularly important in the defense of a negligence suit or other claim.
- If a lawyer turns over a file to a successor lawyer, it is in the original lawyer’s interest to note what file materials belong to him or her and need not be provided to the client and, before handing the remaining documents over, to keep a copy at the lawyer’s expense of certain of the file contents that belong to the client.
(ii). Defending against complaints
- A related reason for file retention is to enable a lawyer to defend against a complaint investigation or forensic audit.
- An investigation or audit may not only occur during the active work on a file or when a client has decided to change lawyers, but also after a file is closed.
- Past records indicate that complaints usually arise within five years after the file is closed, but they can arise later.
- A possible complaint is one of the many reasons why a lawyer should properly document a file in the first place. The same sort of file documentation and document retention described above for the defense of a negligence claim is useful for replying to a complaint.
- When investigating a complaint, the a presiding judicial officer may require production of files, documents and other records for examination or copying, even if such material is privileged or confidential. If a lawyer who is required to produce and permit the copying of files, documents and records, does not comply, steps may be taken against the him / he.
(iii). Future needs of the lawyer or client
When creating a closed file records policy, a law firm should consider the types of files the lawyers handle.
In some jurisdictions, wills files should typically not be destroyed for a minimum of 100 years after the will was executed, unless 10 years have passed since the deceased’s will was probated.
Family, commercial, and estate administration and trust files may be needed again long after the lawyer’s work is finished. These needs do not relate to negligence or complaint problems, but to new instructions from the client as to the interpretation, enforcement, or variation of agreements, or in the case of wills, the upholding the will. Therefore, what is retained in these files and the length of time for retention should reflect these needs. Different types of files can and should be retained for different periods of time.
Reasons for destruction of file documents and files
Why not simply play it safe and keep every file forever? Indeed, this has been a solution for some law firms. However, not every paper in a file, nor indeed every file, needs to be retained.
There are four main reasons why a lawyer might properly decide to destroy a file or part of one:
1. The client already has all significant file materials
Many of the documents in a file belong to the client. A lawyer will have provided the client, as part of the reporting process during the course of a file, with copies of documents and significant letters prepared or received. At the conclusion of the file, the lawyer should also provide the client with originals (if possible) or copies of all other documents of importance or interest to the client.
From the lawyer’s point of view, it is better for the client to be responsible for important documents and valuables, since this can help prevent claims for negligent loss of these items. The lawyer should note in the part of the file retained by the firm (whether in paper or electronic form), what documents and valuables were provided and returned to the client. The easiest way to do this is by keeping a copy of the closing letter to the client, which lists the documents and valuables and advises the client of the file destruction date.
By providing a client with file material on an ongoing basis, and by finishing the file by returning the client’s original documents and valuables with a closing letter, the client’s needs for file material in the future are significantly reduced and a file destruction date can be set.
2. Space and cost
Closed files can be expensive to store.
Paper files take up a considerable amount of space to store securely within the office or off-site, which may be costly.
Even “stripped” paper files eventually consume a great deal of space.
The costs of maintaining and storing records electronically may be more economical than physical storage; however, a lawyer must maintain electronic records, in compliance with the established rules
3. The future of the firm
What happens when a law firm dissolves, or a lawyer dies, retires, or quits practice? This issue may be of less concern where there are many lawyers in the firm, but it is vitally important for sole practitioners and small firms.
- Some questions to consider are:
- who will have responsibility for the files,
- who will want them,
- who will store them, and
- who will pay for storage?
When lawyers leave existing firms, they rarely take closed file records, but there should be some discussion about responsibility for the files. Ideally, a partner continuing in practice elsewhere would depart with his or her own files, but if that is not possible, a firm will want to know that its responsibility and costs for storage will end at some point.
This is another reason that a destruction date should be set by the responsible lawyer for any file that goes into storage. Any lawyer leaving a firm should have a clear understanding of the firm’s intentions with respect to closed files for which the lawyer was responsible.
Although it is recommended that files be stored for lengthy periods, a lawyer leaving should confirm with the firm its intentions, especially if the lawyer has concerns that a client may make a complaint or claim which the lawyer can best answer with the file.
From the day a lawyer opens a practice, the lawyer should reduce in size as many files as possible, and set file destruction dates on closing the files to make the winding-down of the practice as easy as possible.
Upon retiring, the lawyer should make arrangements with another lawyer to take custody over closed files which cannot yet be destroyed. These actions will prevent having the lawyer’s representative deal with files and possibly have access to confidential client information
4. Statutory requirements
In some jurisdictions, there are legal requirements are very clear on personal information that an organization may hold at any one time in as far as its disposal is concerned.
For instance it may state that an organization must destroy its documents containing “personal information” (as defined in section 1) or remove the means by which the personal information can be associated with particular individuals as soon as it is reasonable to assume that:
(a) the purpose for which that personal information was collected is no longer being served by retention of the personal information, and
(b) retention is no longer necessary for legal or business purposes.
Such jurisdictions make it an offense for a person or organization to dispose of personal information with an intent to evade a request for access to the personal information.
1) After a minimum of ten (10) years files may be reviewed by an attorney for possible destruction.
2) No file may be destroyed until it has been reviewed individually by an attorney and found suitable for destruction.
a) Any client property found in the file must be returned to the client
b) The attorney shall exercise professional judgment in determining whether a particular file is suitable for destruction erring on the side of retaining the file if there is any reason why the file may be needed in the future. Those reasons include, but are not limited to:
i) The statute of limitation for malpractice claims has been tolled or has not yet run.
ii) The underlying case involved a minor who has not yet reached the age of majority.
iii) The file involved a troublesome client or outcome.
iv) The file involved an area of law or cause of action where either for substantive reasons or client relations reasons, information in the file may be needed in the future. These include, but are not limited to:
(1) Unsatisfied Judgments: File must be retained until judgment is satisfied or can no longer be renewed allowing time for the malpractice statute of limitation to pass after judgment can no longer be renewed.
(2) Minor children: Files involving minor children must be retained until the youngest child involved becomes of age plus additional time for the statute of limitations to run
(3) Divorce files: Should be permanently retained when alimony or spousal maintenance is involved. When minor children are involved, the file must be retained at least until the youngest minor child involved reaches the age of majority, allowing additional time for the statute of limitations to run.
(4) Structured settlements: Should be retained until that settlement is final.
(5) Collection files: should be retained until paid or if judgment is outstanding, see guidelines for “Unsatisfied Judgments.”
(6) Bankruptcy: Files should be retained permanently.
(7) Criminal cases: Files involving incarceration should be retained for the length of the incarceration.
(8) Estate planning: Files should be retained permanently, including: wills and trusts; pension and profit sharing plans; and tax files; all of which should be treated as vital documents.
(9) Certain documents need to be retained permanently if not returned to the client:
(a) recorded deeds;
(b) accountants’ audit reports;
(c) tax returns (including all related documents and worksheets);
(d) year-end financial statements and depreciation schedules;
(e) accounting journals;
(f) bills of sale (for important purchases)
(g) minute books, bylaws, and certificates of incorporation;
(h) capital stock and bond records dealing with capital structure;
(i) insurance policies and records;
(j) property records and property appraisals;
(k) copyright and trademark registrations;
(l) patents and all related documents and correspondence;
(m) major contracts and leases;
(n) actuarial reports.
3) Before any file is destroyed, the client is to be informed of the pending destruction and given opportunity to object and personally retain the file:
a) A letter will be sent to the client stating that:
i) The firm is happy to have been of service to the client in the past.
ii) The length of time the file has been held.
iii) In accordance with firm policy, files held longer than ten (10) years will be destroyed.
iv) The client may obtain the file if desired.
v) The file is schedule for destruction 90-days after the date the letter is mailed.
vi) If the firm has not heard back from the client, the firm will assume that the client has no objections to destruction of the file.
vii) If the client has any further legal issues, the firm would be happy to be of further service.
b) The letter need only be sent by first-class mail.
c) Disposition of files by response to letter:
i) If letter returns undelivered – retain file permanently.
ii) If client consents for there is no response within 90- days, – file may be destroyed.
iii) If client desires the file.
(1) A copy of file should be made and retained.
(2) The original file must be sent to the client.
4) The responsible lawyer must affirmatively give final approval for destruction of a client file or related documents. The lawyer should sign an appropriate destruction authorization form that should be retained as a permanent record.
5) A permanent list or database of destroyed files must be kept.
6) Destruction must be accomplished in a manner that preserves client confidences. These would include shredding, pulping, or any other method that destroys media beyond reconstruction in an environmentally sound manner. The person or service performing the destruction should certify, on the authorization form, the date, location, and method used and do so under a formal non-disclosure agreement binding the company and its employees.
Procedural steps in retention of files
1. Maintain appropriate file organization from the start:
A user friendly policy for the organization, retention, disposition, and destruction of client files should include a system for managing paper documents, electronic documents, and any non- document items.
- Designate a person with the skills and authority to implement and oversee the policy.
- Lawyers and support staff should be trained to understand and adhere to the policy. Not only will it make it easy to find relevant information, but having a policy may assist in responding to a claim or complaint as well as save on storage costs
- . The policy should take into account the existing regulatory requirements
2. Strip the file on closing
While a file is open, lawyers and staff can make the eventual job of stripping and closing the file easier. Before a file is closed, it should be stripped. Consider the following:
1. Check the file to ensure that a closing letter was delivered to the client that listed the documents and valuables that were provided or returned to the client and that advised when the balance of the file will be destroyed.
2. Generally, any document that can be obtained from the court, land title office, or other government registry may be stripped from the file and destroyed, including pleadings, affidavits, transfers, mortgages, and similar documents .
On the other hand, although copies of pleadings may usually be obtained from the court registries, there will be a delay and a cost to obtain them if a lawyer ever needs to do so.
The likelihood of needing copies should also be considered prior to establishing a policy to strip all pleadings and other registered documents.
Electronic copies may also be sufficient for some purposes.
If the nature of the file suggests that the lawyer will be called upon to provide information or copies to or on behalf of the client, the cost of retaining these documents and retrieving the file from storage and who should bear the cost of that service should be considered.
3. Ensure that electronic data or records are considered when making decisions about the retention and destruction of files. If the file is composed of both physical and electronic parts, ensure that all components are properly indexed and accounted for. Comply with the existing regulations regarding the retention and storage of electronic records
4. The Law Society Rules should be the one responsible for setting out retention periods and other requirements with respect to accounting type records and client identification and verification information and documents.
5. Dispose of or retain other file contents as suggested by this list of sub-files:
|Notes, correspondence and emails (communications)||Keep|
|Pleadings||Put in the firm precedent file or destroy|
|Client documents||Give to the client|
|Opposing party documents||Give to the client|
|Case Law||List and destroy|
|Valuables, assets (estates, family, commercial)||Give to the client|
|Liabilities (estates, family, commercial)||Give to the client|
|Drafts of agreements (commercial, family)||Keep as evidence of client instructions along with the final version|
|Medical evidence||Give to the client|
|Wage loss evidence||Give to the client|
|Research (non-legal information referred to at trials or hearings)||Put in the firm research files|
6. Ensure that electronic data or records are considered when making decisions about the retention and destruction of files. If the file is composed of both physical and electronic parts, ensure that all components are properly indexed and accounted for. Comply with the Law Society Rules regarding the retention and storage of electronic records.
7. Consider whether additional material should be kept or may be removed or destroyed, depending on the area of law:
a. Will files: It is strongly suggested that the lawyer return original wills to clients for safekeeping after execution. Long-term storage of original wills can become a major problem for sole practitioners and small firms, particularly when the lawyers want to retire.
Retain copies of everything else in the file:
a copy of the original will, successive drafts, notes, copies of previous wills, and correspondence.
Will files must be treated differently from other files, since they contain evidence of matters such as testamentary capacity and intention and document the lawyer’s work.
Once a will has been probated, it is suggested that the file should be retained for 10 years after final distribution of the estate and any trusts are fully administered.
b. Corporate files and record books:
There are respective legislations that stipulate the period of time the holder of the dissolved company’s records to retain them or follow the adjudicated a period designated by the court or other legislation. As for the lawyer, he/she should also keep the corporate file for that company in case negligence is alleged in the dissolution of the company.
c. Family files: Difficulties may arise long after a family file closes. In particular, lawyers report / cite potential negligence problems involving pensions 20 years and more after separation agreements were executed.
While permanent retention of family files is very onerous, family lawyers must be hesitant to destroy files, and a minimum 10-year retention period is recommended with a potentially much longer time frame where pensions and minors are involved.
3. Establish a file destruction date
After considering the statutory, regulatory, and ethical requirements, the areas of law, and the other potential issues of concern, determine a destruction date for each file at closing.
While some documents in the file will have been disposed of or destroyed upon closing the file, the destruction date is the ultimate date upon which the balance of the file will be destroyed.
4. Choose a method for numbering and organizing closed files
Some firms attempt to organize their closed files by the original file number. This is only efficient for storage purposes if all files close at a uniform rate or if, for instance, closed family files are stored in a different area from closed criminal files. Otherwise, fairly bulky files, even after stripping, have to be filed between long-closed files, forcing office staff to shift large numbers of files to fit them in (or give up and store them in a location which may make their future retrieval difficult). An effective and simple method for organizing closed files is to assign a new sequential number to them as they are closed.
using sequential numbers: C-1, C-2, etc. (the C designates closed status);
numbering each file according to its year of closing (e.g. 13-1, 13-2, 14-1);
segregating closed files by area of law and numbering sequentially within that area: e.g. RE-15-1 for the first real estate file closed in 2015. While more complex, this system makes destruction easier in that most files in a particular area of law and closed in the same year can often be destroyed at the same time.
Regardless of how the firm organizes closed files, it should also maintain a database (and some lawyers may additionally maintain a hard copy file closing book) that lists sequentially the file name, original file number, closed file number, storage box or carton number and storage location, and the file destruction date. The firm’s file database should also be updated with the closed file number and file destruction date.
5. Storage considerations
Regardless of whether the firm stores records in paper form or electronic form, and whether the records are stored at the lawyer’s office or off-site, a lawyer must comply with respective Law Society Rules
A lawyer must not maintain or process records, including electronic records, with a “storage provider” (a defined term) unless the lawyer:
retains custody and control of the records; ensures that ownership of the records does not pass to another party; can comply with a demand under the Act or the Law Society Rules to produce the records and provide access to them;
ensures that the storage provider maintains the records securely without o accessing or copying them except as is necessary to provide the service obtained by the lawyer, o allowing unauthorized access to or copying or acquisition of the records, or o failing to destroy the records completely and permanently on instructions from the lawyer, and
enters into a written agreement with the storage provider that is consistent with the lawyer’s obligations under the Act and the Law Society Rules.
A lawyer must protect all records and the information contained in them by making reasonable security arrangements against all risks of loss, destruction and unauthorized access, use or disclosure.
Choosing when and where to store files
a. On-site storage concerns
Closed files should be stored separately from open files. Unused office space is usually the first storage option for closed files.
Files can be stored in filing cabinets or in boxes.
If shelving is used, steel shelving units are preferable because they are not flammable.
Since client security of records is a concern, the firm should ensure that only lawyers and staff will have access to office files.
It is advisable to store closed files at the office for at least two years after closing, because this is the most likely time when access may be needed. However, a lawyer must keep records that are mandatory (under established rules or any other regulation), other than electronic records, at his or her chief place. This is in as long as the records apply to money held in trust and, in any case for a period that may be stipulated by the relevant legislation.
b. Off-site storage concerns
What happens when a firm runs out of office space? For some lawyers, off-site storage locations have included basements, attics, barns, warehouses, and other empty spaces belonging to members of the firm. Most of these, however, may be unsatisfactory choices. Why?
may not meet the regulatory threshold .
Security may be compromised by unauthorized access.
flooding, fire, vermin, temperature, humidity, and other problems may result.
One alternative solution is to rent space and set up a records storage centre. For some firms this will not be an affordable option, and a commercial storage provider should be considered. A “storage provider” means any entity storing or processing records outside of a lawyer’s office, whether or not for payment.
A law firm must not maintain records, including electronic records, with a storage provider unless it can be done in compliance with existing legislation on such forms of storage
Security and confidentiality
c. Security and confidentiality:
A lawyer must protect his or her records and the information contained in them by making reasonable security arrangements against all risks of loss, destruction and unauthorized access, use or disclosure .
- “Records” in this sense has a broad meaning and includes books, documents, maps, drawings, photographs, letters, vouchers, papers and any other thing on which information is recorded or stored by any means whether graphic, electronic, mechanical or otherwise.
- Any storage area to which unauthorized persons have access should be rejected.
- If files are stored at the law firm, ensure that clients and other visitors do not have access to these rooms.
- If the firm may rent space from a storage provider, it should inquire about security.
- If lockers are used, are they sufficiently durable?
- What types of locks are used?
- How many sets of keys are there for the locker?
- Will members of the firm be the only individuals with access to the locker?
- Will the storage company’s staff have access?
Some countries round the world have legislation that places the onus on organizations to protect personal information in its custody or under its control by making reasonable security arrangements to prevent unauthorized access, collection, use, disclosure, copying, modification, disposal, or similar risks.
Any storage facility should have adequate safeguards against fire. It may be better to have sprinklers in a storage facility than to worry that the documents may be subject to water damage. In one incident, an entire floor of an American records centre was destroyed by fire, and an investigation showed that sprinklers would have prevented the fire from moving beyond a very limited area.
e. Flooding and other water damage
A potential storage facility should be examined for possible water problems.Basements, in particular, may be subject to dampness and flooding, and overhead pipes and leaky roofs can also be a problem. If files are stored in basements or other areas prone to flooding, file boxes should be placed on shelves that keep them above the flood level.
f. Environmental factors
Temperature and humidity will affect the durability of paper. The more stable the environment, the better the storage conditions. Paper files may need humidity levels between 30% and 60%, and temperature between 18º and 24ºC. Ensure that other environmental factors are not a concern, such as mold or pests.
Microfilm and computer media require a different environmental standard. Ideally, they should be kept at 18º–22ºC, with relative humidity between 30% and 50%. Remember that many types of electronic storage mediums will decay over time. CDs and DVDs may become unreadable, and prolonged exposure to sunlight or other environmental influences can destroy electronic storage devices as well.
If the office is located in an earthquake-prone region, consider any extra precautions that a storage facility takes with regard to earthquake damage protection.
On-site storage of closed files may be covered by the firm’s basic office insurance policy. However, the firm may also want to obtain “valuable papers” coverage. For off-site storage, insurance, including disaster coverage, is particularly advisable since insurance may not be available from a commercial storage business. When files are insured, it is especially important for the firm to keep an accurate index of files and documents stored.
If the firm stores files electronically, consider whether the firm is adequately insured to protect against cyber risks such as viruses, computer fraud, and the theft or manipulation of data.
i. Other concerns
Lawyers who opt to store files in homes or outbuildings should consider floor strength and may need to consult a professional to ensure the structure is suitable for storage. Also consider physical access to files or file boxes. If it is necessary to store boxes in stacks several boxes deep, some boxes will be extremely difficult to retrieve. When storing information electronically, it is advisable to be aware of the possibilities of future obsolescence and to have a backup storage system and recovery plan.
6. Off-site storage possibilities
Where a firm expects that infrequent access will be needed to its physical closed files (or where a small number of files are stored), a self-storage facility may be an acceptable solution; if the storage can be maintained in compliance with Rules 10-3 and 10-4. Self-storage facilities are those which store mostly household and personal items such as furniture and boxes, but will allow a party to store almost anything. In these facilities, it is usually only the party storing the items who has access. The employees at the storage facility will not and should not help to retrieve files. Thus, in situations where files are required frequently and on short notice, accessing files in self-storage may not be a practical use of either a lawyer’s time.
Some storage centres may offer business or commercial customer-oriented packages that include heightened security, better access conditions and facilities, and other services.
Self-storage may not be a safe option, however. A law firm has no way to control what types of substances are stored in lockers or areas near its closed file locker. As well, anyone who is renting a locker may have complete access to the storage warehouse. The facility also may not have particular safeguards against fire or water damage.
In short, while a firm must carefully review self-storage conditions, self-storage may be the least expensive option.
b. Records storage providers
Where a firm will need access to closed files frequently, or where it has large numbers of files to be stored, it may wish to consider a records storage provider. Records storage providers offer many services not available with the self-storage option, although there are extra costs for each service. Some will supply software and train law firm staff to index files and boxes. The index is then used by both the storage company and the firm. Some businesses use bar-code indexing to know the location of each box and file, whether stored on its shelves or temporarily delivered to the firm. The records storage provider’s employees will search and retrieve specific boxes or files upon request. Apart from storage, searches and retrievals, other services offered can include the following:
- interfile (adding a file to an existing box);
- courier pick-up and delivery;
- sale of storage boxes;
- confidential file destruction;
- a “destruction date” system which allows a party to request that boxes of files be destroyed on certain dates;
- a climate-controlled vault for computer media and microfilm;
- digitization and electronic information storage and retrieval.
For safe off-site storage, a records storage provider may be the best solution, providing compliance with Rules 10-3 and 10-4 can be maintained. Providers often offer a number of safety features. For example, files may be stored in warehoused boxes to which only trained employees have access. Many have 24-hour surveillance of all entry points. Requests for files are accepted only from designated individuals within a law firm or business.