Legal practices which use paper to maintain an official matter file put themselves and their clients at risk. Rather, if the firm digitizes records in the normal course of business, the paper records can be shredded and with them, their associated costs and risk.
This Los Angeles Times article offers a vivid example. The new president of a California homeowners’ association recounts how they replaced the group’s attorney of more than 30 years, and discovered that all records older than 10 years had been destroyed without notifying the association’s board.
In response, authors Donnie Vanitzian, an arbitrator, and attorney Zachary Levine offer the new HOA president options for possible legal resolution as the association seeks the return of its records. They note that it’s common for legal engagement letters to specify that records may be archived, then destroyed after specified periods of time.
While the relevant state law doesn’t address how long an attorney must retain client files, they say “every attorney has a duty to return client files on request absent a prior agreement.”
Digitized records are an obvious solution, and DocSolid’s Paper2Digital solutions enable a seamless workflow for eliminating these kinds of problems, and driving a full electronic matter file within a firm’s document management system (DMS).
KwikTag Legal, an integrated scanning platform which embeds capture within law firms’ existing document management software, manages inbound paper from the first point of entry, through a scanning and profiling process, with built-in quality control checks to enable confident shredding.
Postmark identifies paper documents that have been printed in-house from an electronic document already filed in the DMS. Postmark prints a small bar code in a corner of the document. This bar code branding on the paper denotes that a corresponding electronic copy is filed in the DMS. After the paper document is used, it can be destroyed instead of filed at any stage of the paper lifecycle. Postmark alone can reduce a firm’s filed paper records by 50-70%.
As records are digitized, a firm can then update its engagement letter, informing clients that it keeps an electronic matter file in the DMS, and that an electronic copy is available upon matter closing. It can also note that any papers of record that have not been scanned into the DMS will also be provided at closing.
The updated letter should also specify that all matter material will be maintained for a prescribed time period and then destroyed. It can provide for a second notice to the client as well. The update should also specify that the firm does not house the client’s original paper documents and describe how it scans them upon receipt, incorporating them into the DMS, then promptly returns the originals.
Document retention problems like the one faced by this homeowners’ association can create costly, time-consuming disputes, but DocSolid’s Paper2Digital practice easily prevents them from arising in the first place.