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How Long Should I Keep Clients’ Legal Records On File?

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Each year a legal firm builds up hundreds upon hundreds of files pertaining to their clients. You want to do right by your clients and keep appropriate documentation on hand. However, you also don’t want to get buried under mounds of old paperwork. The following guidelines will help you determine what to keep, how long to keep it, and how to dispose of it properly.

Legal Document Retention Guidelines

Legal records include anything and everything related to a client’s case, such as correspondence, deposition transcripts, pleadings, expert’s reports, physical evidence, and exhibits. They may also include other original papers and property that you acquired from the client during representation (wills, trusts, contracts, agreements, deeds, etc.). Finally, you should also consider calendars, bills, bill drafts, phone memos, internal memos, emails and ledgers. Some of these pieces of information may seem trivial, but it’s better to hold onto them than to throw them away and regret it later.

There are certain types of property that should be returned to the client instead of being destroyed, including valuables (i.e. jewelry, antiques, fine art), original wills, and settlement agreements. In some cases, a client will dictate that the lawyer should store these items indefinitely. If you cannot get in touch with a client to return valuables, wills or settlements, you must store them indefinitely.

The retention guidelines vary from one state to the next. The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to keep a client’s records and other property for five years following termination of representation. Make sure to check the full regulations for the state of Texas, as there may be other stipulations in place as well.

Additionally, there are varying guidelines for different types of cases. For example, you may not handle civil document destruction the same way that you handle criminal document destruction.

Once you’ve reached the end of the retention period for your legal client records, take care to dispose of the documents properly. The last thing you want is for someone to get a hold of cross-cut shredded remains or an external hard drive sitting out back in the dumpster. If you don’t have the in-house expertise to dispose of the records the right way, hire a professional team. You’ll sleep better at night knowing that your firm’s reputation won’t get compromised due to poor document destruction practices.

UCI is a full-service copier company that offers copier, document and managed services for companies of all sizes. We have document destruction teams in Amarillo and Lubbock. To learn more about our services and how we can serve your legal firm,get in touch with us today.