Law and Order: You Don’t Need to Choose
March 23, 2012
Learn how to build a case for your law firm’s revamped records retention policy and put an end to attorneys hoarding files as squirrels do acorns. Crime fighting should be so easy.
This just in: When Iron Mountain recently surveyed 224 law firms about their records management policy, nearly a quarter said, “We don’t have one.” Thirty-five percent of respondents cited attorney reluctance to part with client files as the biggest barrier to creating a destruction policy.
Of course, you could just go commando and run your firm without a retention policy—that is, if you’re up for keeping everything forever and continually adding to your onsite and offsite storage costs. You’ll also incur costs as you ask staff to find what the attorneys need from the ever-growing mountain of information.
Approaching Critical Mass
Not appealing, is it? Well, if you’re like the 45 percent of Iron Mountain survey respondents who said they’re unfamiliar with their state or local bar’s guidance on records retention, it’s time to start your research, or press your bar to give you guidance. You’ll also want to consider bringing in a trusted partner to guide you through the steps for designing a records policy and retention and destruction program for the law firm environment. Such a valuable collaborator can also help you implement your program. As you ready your team for this effort, you should also:
- Know what you’ve got. Start by doing an inventory of all your records in all your locations—enough to understand the volume, the vintage and the contents. You may find that you have a lot of old-time records that aren’t indexed. But now at least you’ve got that quantified.
- Research the rules. Law firms have internal expertise on the regulations you’ll need to comply with, and someone may even know the ropes on client file rules. But because this isn’t billable-hours work, it may be hard to find a colleague who wants to spend the time. That’s where guidance on client file retention from organizations like the ABA or your records management partner comes in very handy.
- Form a team. You’ll need IT, risk management and your general counsel at the table with you to get things done and adopted. You’ll also need to engage the practice group heads, to define their requirements and gain their buy-in so they’ll enforce adoption when the policy is done. And don’t forget HR, finance and marketing—they all have records to be managed throughout their lifecycle.
Once you’re familiar with your firm’s files and the rules and regulations that govern them, it’s time to think about implementing your retention policy. Consider these steps:
- Shrink your file room. This is the kind of bottom-line move that can have a direct and positive impact on your firm’s budget. Consider moving files to a secure offsite storage facility to reduce your rent on non-revenue-generating space.
- Establish a destruction schedule. Regular purging of files, backup tapes and other records makes it easier to find what you need. Just make sure the schedule is in compliance with required standards. And help your attorneys get comfortable with destroying eligible files with state bar guidance.
- Communicate your policy. Everyone in the firm needs to understand your retention policy and why it matters if they’re going to embrace it.
Get Expert Assistance
A trusted partner can store tapes as well as electronic and paper records safely. It can also provide critical fast access and retrieval services, and help you implement consistent retention and destruction values. What’s more, you’ll be doing a great service to your firm by neatly ending the era of the packrat.
Iron Mountain Suggests: Get Smart Retention Solutions
Iron Mountain’s Law Firm Solutions make it easier for your firm to administer a records management policy and lower your costs in the process. Available services include:
Records management. Secure storage and efficient access to your records with proven best practices for law firm records retention and destruction.
Document imaging. A vast network of storage and imaging facilities lets you store locally and access documents globally, on demand, or on a go-forward basis as you move to a less paper intensive workflow.
Secure shredding. An auditable, highly secure process for destroying files and media.
Consulting services. Get help developing, establishing and distributing a defensible policy and retention schedule throughout your firm.
To learn more, please visit ironmountain.com/law.
Do you have more questions about your firm’s options? Read additional feature articles on this subject on Iron Mountain’s Law Firm Solutions page, or contact Iron Mountain to learn more about services to address your information management challenges.
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How Records Management Could Protect Against Lawsuits
What Every Law Firm Needs to Know About Shredding (*But May Not Think to Ask)
The Why and How of Creating an Entirely New Role in Your Organization to Master Records Management