File Destruction

Client Confidentiality

Confidentiality should be a major concern when you finally decide to dispose of a file. Rules 3.3-1 to 3.3-7 of the Code of Professional Conduct require you to hold all of your client’s information in strict confidence and to take all reasonable steps to ensure confidentiality.

You should create firm policies for the disposal of materials within the office and review them with any outside shredding or recycling suppliers that you retain. From time to time, all lawyers and staff within your firm should be reminded of the obligation to safeguard client information and the firm’s policies in that regard.


Paper Files

The predominant destruction method is paper shredding. You may decide to purchase or lease a paper shredder. Cross-cut shredders are the preferred type. Alternatively, you may hire a paper shredding company, but if you do so, someone in the firm should monitor the work and ensure the documents are in fact destroyed (many companies provide certificates of destruction). In some rural areas, burning may be an option. It is clearly never acceptable for you or your staff to throw file documents into the trash, a dumpster, a recycling bin, or a public landfill.


Electronic Files

You also need to think about the methods of deleting and destroying electronic files and computer hard drives. Some highly sensitive information should not be put into a computer unless there is encryption protection for the information and simply deleting files from a hard drive is not sufficient as, even if documents appear to be deleted on a hard drive, skilled individuals may be able to reconstruct the information that resides on it. There are programs available for reformatting hard drives, but you need to take care that the job has been done successfully. There are many different commercial services that provide secure hard drive destruction and digital media shredding and can ensure that files are erased and non-recoverable.

If disposing of old computer systems, hard drives or other storage devices should be physically destroyed by an appropriate shredder or commercial shredding service. Old systems or storage devices should not be dumped into public trash receptacles, donated, or sold.


Want more information?
File storage and retention is an issue for every lawyer, and a complicated one at that. When considering your file retention policies and document management systems, this module is unlikely to answer all of your questions. It is not exhaustive and different circumstances call for different measures and policies. For more information, you may wish to review File Retention and Document Management, from the Law Society of Alberta Start-Up Kit.