Denise Guérin, the 2006-07 section council chair for Law
Practice Management, is a solo practitioner in Cambridge
concentrating on residential and commercial real estate
transactions and all matters involving small businesses.
Q: Our firm has recently made a commitment to become less dependent
on paper and hard copy of files. We are scanning almost everything
that comes across our desks (we have six attorneys) and are trying
to curb our dependency on manila folders and expandable cardboard
files. However, since the paper files still exist, I am interested
in keeping them as organized and as minimized as possible, going
forward. Any advice?
A: Many attorneys (and I am definitely in that number) have a
serious case of "Pack Rat Syndrome." We just know that if we don't
hold onto a particular piece of paper, it will be the one that we
need most desperately next week, or next month, or next year.
Hence, the exponential growth of our files, boxes and storage
At its most basic level, starting to manage your records requires
only three things of you and your firm:
1. Agree upon a formal (written) records management policy.
2. Create a retention schedule.
3. Produce some rules and guidelines by which the policy and
schedule will be maintained and enforced.
Factors in creating a records management
• Decide if your policy will initially govern only hard copy
records, or both hard copy and electronic records. It might be
easier to start out with a less ambitious agenda.
• Delineate policies and procedures for both active and inactive
• Don't overlook (or minimize) the need to manage non-client
records, such as time/billing records, HR files and so forth.
• Pay strict attention to compliance, at every step, with the
Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct.
• Impose packing, packaging and labeling conventions.
• Include specific procedures for disposition, destruction,
imposing "holds," client notifications and obtaining approvals for
all of the foregoing.
• Require strict documentation of key steps and procedures in order
to create a solid and audit-proof chain of control.
Constructing the schedules
• Classify your records. For example, billing information should be
separate from HR files, which should be separate from banking
records, all of which must be separate from client files.
• Understand that optimal retention schedules will vary for
different classes of records.
• Primary factors in determining retention periods will be
file-specific legal requirements, legal/ethical considerations and
• Draft a Client Notification Letter, advising the client that, in
accordance with the firm's records management policy, the following
files are due to be destroyed, or returned to the client upon
• Give the client a generous but firm and specific deadline by
which to respond to you (in a self-addressed, stamped envelope) if
the client wishes to have records returned rather than
• Reference the existence of your records management policy in your
fee agreements and engagement letters. Consider attaching a blank
template of your Client Notification Letter to the fee agreement,
For more information on this topic, refer to the excellent book
The Lawyer's Guide to Records Management and Retention,
Cunningham and Montana, from ABA Publishers. Or visit these Web
• www.prismintl.org (PRISM - Professional Information and Records
• www.arma.org (ARMA Intl. - Records Managers Professional
• www.aiim.org (AIIM - The Association for Information and Image