What Every Law Firm Needs to Know About Shredding (*But May Not Think to Ask)

Topics: Secure Shredding

You and your colleagues are quite likely fluent in document management and compliance issues. But as you build a secure shredding program for your practice, you’ll want to learn how to make it cost-effective, secure and easy to use.

Start Here: Assess Your Needs

  • How much does our internal shredding program cost usand how do those numbers compare with a total outsourcing plan? (Calculate everything from staffing the program to final document disposal.)
  • Do we have a strong and reliable internal Chain-of-Custody? Are our lawyers and staff apprised regularly on best practices in document handling, management and secure disposal?
  • When did we last conduct a formal audit of our disposal program? Can this system accommodate our constantly increasing data and information needs, year after year?

Secure Shredding: Why It Matters

Are you an office manager or partner at a law firm, charged with making your records-disposal operation hum? If so, ensuring data and client confidentiality is critical to your practice, and therefore deserves your firm’s highest attention.

After all, what firm wants to find itself defending its own business operations in court? The threats are quite real. Law firms face ever-expanding federal and state regulations targeting data collection and disposal, as well as stricter code-of-conduct requirements concerning protection of client information. Flaunt these rules and you put your firm’s reputation in jeopardy. When you add the hard costs of fines, punitive awards and your defense, it makes sense to spend some preemptive dollars on a secure shredding strategy instead.

Scope Out the Options

Document disposal and shredding operations can be kept in-house or outsourced to a trusted shredding partner. When you choose to keep the shredding operation under your own roof, you’ll also be committing to considerable planning up front. Once you implement the program, it will require ongoing oversight by either your firm’s office manager or operations team, or your trusted partner.

Many firms face these hurdles as they attempt to keep the entire shredding process at headquarters:

  • Burning up the hours. Sole practitioners and small legal practices find it especially hard to assign already overworked staffers document disposal duty.
  • Tough choices. Which documents should be retained, and which should be destroyed? Establishing best practices around these processes is a time-consuming challenge that must address both paper and digital files.
  • Keeping the lights on (and those blades gnashing). The overhead costs of maintaining the program—including staffing, physical storage needs and technology systems—can prove daunting. Such expenses can also increase if you play it safe by hiring a compliance consultant.

The second option—outsourcing—of course eliminates most of the staffing a do-it-yourself plan requires, while also reducing overhead. What’s more, by putting document shredding into the hands of experts on legal practices and document management, you can relax: The risks of your data being misplaced, lost, stolen or wrongfully destroyed are almost completely eliminated.

You Must Never Break the Chain…

A shredding partner can also help your firm establish the internal processes and procedures essential to establishing a strong Chain-of-Custody. It’s a required step regardless of which option you choose, onsite or offsite shredding.

Take note: Ignoring the internal Chain-of-Custody process is perilous. The following example of a 2010 breach in California illustrates the dangers.

The state’s government agencies and attorneys who advocate for prison inmates must adhere to California privacy laws regarding protected information and its proper disposal. Infractions can draw penalties, fines and even misdemeanor charges.

In this example, the private lawyer of several prison inmates in parole cases had to explain how a box of his clients’ documents—including psychological evaluations and Social Security numbers—landed in a public trash container. An investigation revealed that the documents were last in the lawyer’s car—but then his wife went on a cleaning spree, mistook the box for garbage and threw it into the trash.

This would never have happened if the lawyer had established a proper Chain-of-Custody for his records. Additionally, policies regarding document management, storage and disposal are critical to your success.

Iron Mountain Suggests: Deeper Considerations

In developing an offsite shredding strategy, law firms should choose a partner with a proven track record and strong industry reputation. (Read: This isn’t the kind of work to farm out to a company you saw in the local penny saver.) Key criteria for selecting a secure shredding provider:

  • Its consultants should be ready, willing and able to collaborate with you on the design and implementation of a shredding program. “Implementation” includes internal policies governing Chain-of-Custody and document management.
  • The company should show expertise in building information-disposal policies. Look for customer referrals to this effect.
  • Its reporting capabilities, tools and guidance should help you assess your shredding program from a financial and compliance perspective.
  • The rep assigned to your firm should be adept at gathering and sharing trends and changes in data disposal laws.
  • What about a vendor that offers a holistic, all-included shredding service? Products and services can include picking up documents, monitoring controls and ensuring proper shredding.
  • Look for a provider that’s AAA-certified by the National Association for Information Destruction (NAID). Data protection regulations in the United States and Canada call for organizations such as yours to select service providers based on written evaluative criteria. NAID’s AAA certification contributes to this process.
  • A valuable partner will provide consistent, timely reporting and complete visibility of all document-shredding operations—which builds a granular audit trail. Such in-depth insight allows a firm to adjust shredding requirements as it needs and requires, without all the inherent headaches of handing such an undertaking.

When you select a trusted shredding partner, you’re taking the most important step toward ensuring secure and reliable document destruction that’s also convenient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

Do you have questions about secure shredding? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s consulting services team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.

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