Purposes of File Retention

Every law firm needs to have a file retention policy, but there is no “one size fits all” policy. As the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society states in their Guidelines for File Closure, Retention and Destruction:

… a thoughtful and consistent policy of stripping down, notification, retention and destruction is compatible with a professionally responsible practice. There will always be business risk associated with file destruction, but at some point the cost of keeping everything will outweigh the risk of destroying files. It is for each practitioner/firm to develop their own policy to address the risk in a fashion that they can tolerate.

In crafting your policy, your first consideration is who your stakeholders are. Stakeholders in the contents of your files include you, your firm, your successors, your clients and their successors, your insurer, and regulatory authorities, such as tax authorities, privacy authorities, and the Law Society.

Once the stakeholders are identified, consider also the reasons that you may require file contents, including to:

  • comply with regulatory requirements;
  • comply with statutory requirements;
  • respond to claims and/or complaints; and
  • to ensure that the future needs of you, your firm, and your clients are met.

We will address each of these in turn.