Do Information Governance principles now apply to your firm’s mailroom?
Mail has been a perfunctory function aligned with other physical office services, but the pandemic shifted mail to a critical, and digital operation.
Mail workflows include sensitive client information, launch new work, and therefore often billable activity. This means matter-centric record creation is starting right from mail delivery, not later, from a pile on a desk, even if it be a digital pile on a virtual desk. Protection and integrity of client information has always been a part of our client agreements. Scanning to a digital format does not negate our obligations to sort this information correctly at the beginning of the process.
Since scanning and document description is involved, it is more technical as well. This brings in issues of data compliance and availability but also transparency and accountability from new processes created for the mail distribution. In short, no matter who this process belongs to organizationally, it needs to be a part of your well thought out Information Governance policy, and refined on an ongoing basis, just like any other records management.
Let’s simplify to just three areas of focus for your current digital or ‘soon to be digital’ mailroom operation. Below the 8 “generally accepted record keeping principles” registered as the “The Principles” by ARMA, have been highlighted for you in the areas of focus.
Stakeholder Consultation. This all-important key sponsorship ties the Digital Mailroom (DMR) to the firm’s ever-growing maturity on conversion to digital matter files.
Setting attorney expectations of ‘maximum electronic delivery and storage’ for overall firm efficiency helps create the all-important buy-in. The greatest success of a mailroom modernization project is standardization across all locations and practice areas which cannot be achieved without strong firm leadership.
A documented, smooth-running mailroom can only be achieved with a design driven by:
- Accountability from senior management, and
- Transparency of purpose toward overall law firm record keeping goals.
Protection of Sensitive Data. This concept is paramount in today’s legal environment (See the current LIFGS white paper on Client Information Governance Requests[i]). Monitoring and auditing tools such as logs of mailroom processes must be used to ‘trust and verify’ as well as safely satisfy internal, as well as external, compliance and potential audit criteria.
Much law firm mail will end up classified as a record, so every bit of accurate metadata added along the way adds integrity to these document classifications and the overall process. Adding further to the integrity, records policy can be amended to start in the mailroom, rather than documenting records only at the time of transfer to longer term storage repositories.
Comprehensive Chain of Custody. Firms must maintain a comprehensive chain of custody– ‘cradle to grave’ – from mail receipt and opening, sorting/naming/scanning, through a short physical retention and shredding.
In cases of, admittedly, necessary secondary physical delivery, we must minimize and document that process. Adding documentation at this step like “We mark here in the log we were asked to drop it to a desk after scanning the envelope,” is crucial to maintaining the chain of custody in these situations.
Providing fast and appropriate availability of mail items along the way to careful and documented disposition, makes the law firm more competitive, as well as providing a defensible protection strategy for key client and law firm files.