Document storage for the legal industry
A legal firm is responsible for managing an overwhelming number of documents. Lawyers and legal staff work with an array of legal documents every day, including notes, contracts, reports, notices and much more. A 2013 article by The Australian Legal Sector Alliance suggested that a person working within an Australian law firm uses approximately 125 kg or 25,000 sheets of paper per year. Due to the nature of the legal industry, we would assume a large percentage of these printed documents will need to be stored for compliance requirements. Responsible document storage and management for the legal industry is therefore of noteworthy importance to ensure that a legal firm is not reprimanded for malpractice or negligence after mishandling documents.
Ownership of documents in a law firm
While the storing of physical documents and records is a necessary responsibility for law firms, physical storage comes with several challenges. In New South Wales the rules regarding document storage and handling depend on several circumstances relating to ownership. Most legal documents belong to the client, with some belonging to the lawyer. Documents that are considered to belong to the lawyer include:
- Documents the client gave to the lawyer for the lawyer’s use and benefit (The Office of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner, 2015)
- Documents are prepared by the lawyer for their purposes, protection or records, and the client is not expected to pay for them. This includes notes of attendances on the client, notes of work done and notes of matters requiring attention (The Office of the NSW Legal Services Commissioner, 2015)
How long does a law firm have to keep client documents?
A law firm can destroy most client documents in their possession after 7 years from the completion or termination of the job, except where there are client instructions or other legislation that instructs otherwise. To add to the complexity of document storage and management, even after 7 years the destruction of client documents can not be performed without the client’s consent. As you can see, there are a lot of intricacies around document storage and management of legal documents.
For a law firm to manage their document storage and destruction internally is not only expensive but can occupy a huge amount of floor space. There may be the consideration to scan and electronically store document files, but this is certainly not the most cost-effective solution available – as noted in our previous post Document File Storage Cost vs Scanning Cost. Outsourcing Document Storage and Management to an offsite service provider, such as CostSmart, is therefore recommended because it reduces disciplinary action due to following compliance requirements, helps save money and space on storage and ensures security by preventing unauthorised access. CostSmart can manage a legal firm’s retention and destruction rates based on specific needs, ensuring that documents are successfully destroyed according to schedule and compliance.
While there is no direct legislation in place for the legal industry as to what exact precautions need to be in place to keep documents safe, it is evident that protection against reasonably foreseeable threats is a must – including theft (by public or staff), fire and flood. CostSmart’s secure facilities include two 11-metre firewalls, an onsite fire hydrant and booster, systematic replacement of shelving with wire meshing and all fire safety aspects are inspected, pressure tested and regulated by qualified third-party professionals. CostSmart has elevated warehouse shelving in the event of localised road flooding, ventilation, security cameras operating 24/7 and an alarm system for fire and theft. With many law firms operating in expensive urban centres, offsite document storage and management makes way for a secure, cost-effective and efficient option that frees up precious office floor space for other pressing purposes.
Scan On Demand
CostSmart’s Scan on Demand service is our recommended service for law firms. The Scan on Demand service bypasses the need for couriering, saving on time and the potential cost of shipment. We retrieve your document and deliver it to you via a secure electronic file transfer protocol within 2 hours of your request. The document is then returned to its original location in our warehouse. This pay-as-you-go service is the most cost-effective service in the market. Especially if CostSmart manages your destruction dates, which as explained above, is generally 7 years for the legal industry.
To find out more about CostSmart’s document storage and management solutions for law firms, get in touch with us at [email protected] or by calling 1300 100 461 for further information. Our team would be happy to discuss a personalised approach for your firm.