Law firms need to keep most records for seven years, though they are required to keep certain documents for 10 years or forever. A probate attorney must keep wills and trusts for as long as the client is alive.
The state bar and clients expect you to handle documents properly. A retention schedule reminds you of the date that you can destroy the documents. A month prior, the firm should notify the client that his or her file is up for destruction and if he wants it, he has a certain number of days to pick it up, else it will go to the shredder.
Document compliance, including document destruction, can become a chore if law firms do not keep up with it. Once a file's time is up and the client does not want it, the firm should place the file, which contains confidential documents, in a locked shred box. A locked shred box keeps the file from prying eyes while you wait for the document shredding appointment. If a firm does not have a retention schedule, it can run into trouble should the firm close.
Law firms also have an alternative: They can go digital. While documents will still come into the office, they are scanned and immediately shredded. This eliminates the boxes upon boxes of files being store on- and off-site, which saves the firm time and money. It won't have to pay a third party to store the documents, and the firm is dumping the scanned documents into a locked shred box as they come in – instead of scanning all of the files at once.
Keeping digital files, including two daily backups – one to a cloud and one to a local removable hard drive ensures that you have double backups in the event that something happens, which usually does.
Digitalizing the law office increases data security and data privacy and ensures the firm is in legal compliance with the bar association's regulations regarding document retention. It also makes it easier to send a client his or her file when the retention period is up.
In the past, compliance meant keeping records for the allotted time and then disposing of them in the trash – which is a good way for identity thieves to gain access to confidential information. It is most likely why many firms kept records for decades.
Now, protecting data has become much easier, thanks to paper shredding. However, if you do not have a retention schedule, the files and client security can overwhelm a firm and even cause client information to fall into the wrong hands.
Since holding digital files – with the exception of original estate documents – meets the compliance regulations, law firms can increase client privacy and security by going paperless. Discarding the documents in the shred boxes as they are scanned eliminates the need for file folders, filing cabinets, and lost space for boxes of files.
Contact Carolina Shred
If you have boxes upon boxes of client files that your firm needs to dispose of, contact Carolina Shred to set up an appointment. If you plan to go digital or have a retention schedule for client files and other confidential documents, contact the office to obtain locked shred boxes and set up a shred schedule to protect your clients' and employees' privacy.