Guide to Retention and Destruction of Closed Client Files for Paralegals - Appendix 1

Sample File Retention Policy

This file retention policy is a sample policy only to assist paralegals in preparing a file retention policy. This sample policy should be adapted to suit the individual practice. No one policy can cover all situations relating to all paralegal practices. This policy is not intended to replace the paralegal’s professional judgment. When establishing a file retention policy the paralegal should consider both the circumstances of the paralegal’s practice as well as the Law Society Guide to File Retention and Destruction of Closed Client Files.

1.      Purpose

The purpose of this policy is to provide procedures for the closing, retention and disposition of client files.

2.      Definitions

“disposition of client files” means the final action taken with the contents of client files and includes destruction, transfer to the firm’s precedent bank and permanent retention.

“ client file ” means the physical paper folder containing the physical documents related to the matter and/or the electronic folder or directory containing the electronic files, documents, data or information related to the matter (hereinafter referred to as “file”). 1  

“file destruction date” is the date on or after which a file may be destroyed.

“paralegal” is the paralegal who has carriage of the file or another paralegal in the firm who has been assigned responsibility for the file.

3.      Closing the File

3.1      When a matter has been completed, the paralegal shall review the file to determine if the file may be closed.

3.2      No file shall be closed unless:

  • the retainer has been completed;
  • a final account, if any, has been forwarded to the client;
  • all accounts have been paid or forgiven;
  • there is a final distribution and accounting of all trust balances relating to the file;
  • client property has been returned to the client;
  • there are no outstanding undertakings or trust conditions.

3.3      Prior to closing the file, unless otherwise agreed, client documents shall be returned to the client.

3.4      At the paralegal’s discretion, copies of client documents may be retained in the file.

3.5      At the paralegal’s discretion prior to closing the file, the file shall be stripped of the following:

  • duplicate copies of documents;
  • draft copies of documents unless the history of creation of the document might be an issue in the future;
  • any documents that can be reproduced from another source such as pleadings.

3.6      Prior to closing the file, at the paralegal’s discretion copies shall be made of any documents that may be used as precedents and placed in the firm’s precedent bank for future use. The paralegal will ensure that such precedent documents are stripped of all personal information within the meaning of ThePersonalInformationProtectionand Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) and that client confidentiality, in accordance with the ParalegalRules of Conduct, is maintained with respect to any other information that identifies the client.

3.7      No file shall be closed unless the paralegal reviews the file and determines whether the file is appropriate for destruction at a future date or whether the file should be retained permanently.

3.8      If the file is appropriate for destruction, the paralegal shall establish a date for the destruction of the file (“file destruction date”).

3.9      No file shall be closed unless a letter has been forwarded to the client by ordinary mail or delivered to the client advising the client that:

  • the matter has been completed;
  • all documents and property belonging to the client have been returned to the client or alternatively confirming any arrangement between the paralegal and the client regarding the storage of the client’s property;
  • the paralegal firm may store the file off-site and if the client requires copies of documents from a file stored off-site, an administrative fee will be charged to retrieve the file;
  • in accordance with the paralegal firm’s policy, a file destruction date has been established and the file will be destroyed on or after the file destruction date without further notice to the client.

3.10      If documents from the file are returned to the client, copies shall be made of all documents that cannot be readily obtained from other sources or that in the paralegal’s judgment the firm may require in the future.

3.11      When the file is closed, the file shall be moved from an active status to an inactive status.

3.12      The firm shall maintain a list of closed files including the date that the file was closed.

4.      Establishing the File Destruction Date

4.1      If the paralegal determines that the file is appropriate for destruction at a future date, the paralegal shall establish:

  • a file destruction date no earlier than fifteen years after the date that the file is closed; and
  • a date for the review of the file no earlier than 90 days prior to the file destruction date (“file review date”).

4.2      If the paralegal determines that the file is to be retained permanently, the paralegal shall establish periodic review dates in order that the paralegal may review the file to determine whether circumstances have changed and whether the file is appropriate for destruction.

The paralegal will exercise professional judgment in determining whether a file is appropriate for destruction and in establishing a file destruction date. In making these decisions, the paralegal shall consider:

  • the length of time that the paralegal is required to retain documents pursuant to specific laws or regulatory provisions;
  • the client’s age and capacity;
  • the likelihood that the paralegal will require the file for the future representation of the client;
  • the length of time that the paralegal may be liable for claims involving professional negligence; and
  • the likelihood that the paralegal will require the file because of the nature of the matter, the outcome of the matter or the fact that the file involved a difficult client.

4.4      All file destruction dates and file review dates shall be entered into the firm’s tickler system.

5.      Retention of Closed Files

5.1      Closed files shall be stored in facilities that are physically secure so as to maintain client confidentiality and to protect against damage or loss.

6. File Destruction

6.1      The paralegal shall review the file on or after the file review date and prior to the file destruction date to determine whether circumstances have changed since the establishment of the file destruction date and whether the destruction should proceed.

6.2      All destruction of files shall be conducted in a manner that ensures the maintenance of client confidentiality.

6.3      list or database of destroyed files shall be maintained.

6.4      A record of destruction or disposal shall be maintained. The record shall include the following information: the name and address of the client, the file number, a brief description of the matter, the file closure date, the file disposition date, and the name of the paralegal who authorized the file disposition.


 

1 Electronic data and information may include email, draft versions of documents on a server or document management system, scanned/imaged documents, faxes (where there are no paper copies),voicemail, metadata and any other information or data relating to a matter saved and stored in electronic form (e.g. on servers, magnetic media, magneto-optical systems, compact discs, DVDs).