Record retention has long been an important topic in the legal community – both for internal operations and as a part of the general consul they provide to clients. Computer networks, document and practice management software, and email have turned the vast majority of business records into electronic form. And the growth of e-discovery has contributed to the sheer volume of sensitive data law firms must manage.
In short, the legal industry’s increasing reliance on technology have led to a boom in efficiencies and allowed firms to provide a vast new array of services to clients. But the proliferation of more electronic records means a different approach to retention is required. Below are a few ways technology has changed the way we need to approach records retention.
- Privacy – Electronic records are much easier to copy and forward, which makes it difficult to track access and can lead to the unintentional disclosure of information.
- Security – Many popular electronic formats have been adapted and used as a vehicle to deliver malicious code into a network. The more electronic records that are retained the great the chance the attack surface increases.
- Backup and Recovery – Large amounts of records require several back-end resources in order to be correctly backed up in case recovery is necessary. Time to recover files and critical systems is also much longer, which can be devastating for billable resources.
- Performance – Record retrieval is a necessary part of everyday business. Over the years, the numbers of documents and other files will build up, making search and discovery slow and difficult.
5 guidelines for records retention:
- Know what you have – Take stock of the types of different records, where they are stored, and how much you have. For example, personnel records might be stored on paper in the file cabinet of the HR manager while financial and client data are all in electronic format. Each record type and how it is stored will have ramification on how the record’s life cycle will be managed.
- Classify – Different records in different forms require different periods of retention. There can be many types of records (HR, business, client, financial, etc…) and there are two forms (electronic and physical). Create a spreadsheet to help track what kind of records you have.
- Define retention rules – Know the laws and regulations for certain types of records. Create rules that move records from online (production) to nearline (easily recoverable) to offline (offsite and archived). If your organization has 15 or more employees, you’ll likely need to follow the records management requirements for personnel files set forth by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 29 CFR Part 1602.
- Deploy the policy – Deploy systems to automate as much as possible. Train and educate employees. Document management systems such as Worldox or NetDocuments offer great features to aid in automating the retention of records.
- Audit – Revisit the policy annually to determine if any change is necessary. Refresh employees’ knowledge and understanding of the policy. Schedule lunch-and-learns to help employees remember and adhere to the policies.
Law firms need an effective strategy to ensure they can protect and produce critical documents. Furthermore, business records are crucial for making strategic decisions and protecting contractual obligations. By following these guidelines, you’re firm will be in a better position to ensure compliance, limit risk and streamline storage requirements for physical and electronic records.