Caution! Detour Ahead: Steer Your Firm Away From Risky Storage Moves

Proper records handling—with a smart shredding partner—can save time, ensure information security and satisfy your company’s compliance with federal and state regulations. Here’s how to take control of your records.

If you can’t find information and documentation quickly, you may need another legal team to deal with the potential consequences—including wasted time and resources, stalled discovery processes and failure to meet compliance regulations.

FAST FACT: About 45 percent of respondents to an Iron Mountain survey of law firms reported being unfamiliar with their state and local bar’s guidance on records retention.

DID YOU KNOW? Although scanning e-records is a sexy technology, it still may make better sense for you to do so with only those files you need and access most.

Remember when your firm used to have a kitchen? And how the refrigerator broke down, so people stopped using the kitchen as much? That’s when one of the paralegals decided it would make a great place to stash all the litigation records from last year’s big personal-injury case. A few weeks later, deposition files covered even the microwave.

Now, your kitchen’s gone and everyone goes out to lunch. But worst of all, your firm has instituted a new and scarily inefficient records management plan.

Small law firms face considerable hazards navigating the storage-and-retrieval paper trail. Cases can generate a vast number of documents, yet priority deadlines may trump later review of what to save and what to destroy. It’s no wonder that overwhelmed firms shove boxes of old case files into any open space and leave sensitive electronic data on whatever DVD, backup tape, memory stick or portable hard drive is handy.

This traffic jam of ever-accumulating data is understandable, but if you can’t find information and documentation quickly, your firm might want to forego the search operation and hire another legal team to deal with the potential consequences—including wasted time and resources, stalled discovery processes and failure to meet compliance regulations.

According to the 2011 Iron Mountain Law Firm Information Management Survey, 21 percent of small law firms reported that they, much like that now kitchen-free office, lack a records management policy. Of those that do have a policy, only 69 percent said it applies to both firm and client files.

What’s more, only 64 percent have plans that address both paper and electronic files. And on that same note, 60 percent of the firms surveyed had no plan to go paperless at all.

For firms with no plan, a trusted partner with legal information management experience can help develop a legally defensible records management program, including secure on- or offsite shredding and a record retention schedule for paper and electronic documents.

Do Your Due Diligence

Already have a policy? Then maybe it’s time for a tune-up—especially if the policy is really just a “save everything just in case” approach. Here’s how to get started on protecting what matters—and ensuring secure information destruction for the rest: This checklist will help fuel your drive for efficiency.

1. Know what you’ve got: Identify vital records. Flag mission-critical information and give it top indexing, storage and access priority. Move non-essential but required data into storage and destroy duplicate and obsolete records, all while conforming to auditing and regulatory rules.

2. Belly up to the bar. About 45 percent of Iron Mountain survey respondents reported being unfamiliar with their state and local bar’s guidance on records retention. Contact yours for information.

3. Let documents take the next exit. To save office space and its square-footage costs, shift records storage offsite to a trusted third-party that offers security procedures—including intrusion detection, alarm systems, physical access controls, fire detection and suppression and 24/7 monitoring.

4. Scan it, but embrace technological advances with discretion. Create a scanning program to digitize most-used files—those you need to meet compliance or operational demands. But leave the rest on paper. Sure, e-records and the cloud are all the buzz, but consider the cost of scanning less-used files that are better off kept out of sight but within quick enough reach should you need them.

5. Put out the velvet rope: Take a selective access approach. Waiting for records is just as wasteful as rummaging through them. A smart interface lets authorized users store converted digital documents in one location and provides for access by those specified staffers. This enhances the access speeds and creates efficiencies while also fostering an atmosphere of control.

6. Out of site means away from fright. Make storage and retrieval part of your disaster-recovery plan. When you maintain a complete set of records offsite, one disaster at headquarters can’t destroy both primary and backup data.

The sooner you start following these critical steps, the safer and more accessible your data becomes. If blown deadlines carry fines and penalties, a comprehensive information management plan can save cold, hard cash, plus intangible assets—such as your firm’s reputation.

As data accumulates, it becomes more difficult to manage what you need and locate what you want: It’s essential to destroy old material on a definitive schedule.

With a trusted information-management partner, you’ll gain that capacity in spades. And when you do receive litigation or discovery requests, you’ll be able to follow defensible, compliant processes that minimize the risk of lacking required information.

More importantly, you might even get back your kitchen.

Explore the Benefits of Secure Shredding

If you are paying to store client files that are 10, 20 and 30 years old, your records retention plan may have met and exceeded its statute of limitations.

A trusted secure shredding partner such as Iron Mountain can help your company adhere to federal and state requirements for retaining and destroying client files. It can also deliver automated reports to remind you which records your firm can destroy, while also providing pre-destruction review and offering patented security, tracking and auditable workflow to maintain valuable chain of custody. With Iron Mountain as your partner, you get:

  • A clear plan: You’ll know how long to retain firm and client files, and when to destroy them
  • Less is really more: Reduce duplicates in your backup and archiving systems
  • Reduced overhead: Better information management at a lower cost

Do you have questions about what Iron Mountain can do for your small business? Read additional Knowledge Center Small Business resources, or contact Iron Mountain’s Small Business team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services Small Business specialist who can address your specific challenges.

Related Content:

Get a Grip: A No-Nonsense Guide for Small Businesses

Critical Information: Dispose of Carefully