Legal Records Storage for Your Firm
By Mary Elizabeth Hammond
Legal record management is a vital aspect of any law firm. Each case or matter will generate numerous records that must be securely stored and filed for future reference. Though legal record keeping is part of daily practice for law firms, it is often disorganized. This can lead to the loss or accidental sharing of sensitive client information and wasting non-billable time tracking records. On top of that, lawyers risk losing their license if they fail to comply with laws that protect client information contained in records.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Tips on organizing and accessing your legal records by category groupings
- The importance of security and compliance in legal record storage—and how you can manage both
- Cloud-based software alternatives to traditional legal record storage methods
Tips for Conveniently Organizing and Accessing Your Legal Record Storage
The majority of the legal process results in the creation, maintenance, and access of a record. There are several factors to consider when storing and managing these records, as it’s not a one-size fits all process. You will need to create a record-keeping database that meets your firm’s needs.
The Type of Legal Records You’re Storing
Firstly, what type of records are you storing? Each type of record will require different management. To form a successful system for your firm’s record management, start by grouping your records into the categories below.
The type of case and practice area
The area of practice and casework type should both be factored into your legal records management. Some cases/practice areas will produce more records than others. For example, a routine real estate closing will have less documentation than a criminal felony case. The more complex the case, the more records you’ll have, and the more storage you’ll need. Different areas and records may require different retention and disposal policies as well. (Refer below for more on these policies.)
Active vs. inactive cases
Court cases progress through four stages: initiation, active status, disposition, and post-disposition. Active case files will need to be quickly accessible, whereas post-disposition case files can go to long-term storage. Store files based on each phase so you can easily access records whenever necessary.
Digital vs. paper legal records management
Before the digital era, law firms relied solely on paper filing systems for all legal records storage. Paper record systems require manual management of legal records and documents, meaning more time spent on a non-billable task. Not to mention the challenge of keeping manual record management organized.
Keeping your records manually means they are in a physical location. Some services rent out secure storage space to legal professionals specifically for legal records. But in this case, you will need to go to this location to access files, making them less accessible should you need to reference them.
Cloud-based legal management software, such as MyCase, enables legal professionals to store legal records in one location—the cloud. This means secure, convenient, efficiently organized, and accessible legal records storage. All you need is a mobile device or desktop and an internet connection.
Organization and Standardization
Creating an organized system for your legal record storage should be a priority. Legal records are not only vital to a lawyer’s daily tasks but also contain private and sensitive client information. Additionally, when you need to track down a record, you don’t want to waste time tediously searching through a chaotic filing system—you want those files at your fingertips and just a few clicks away.
Organization starts with standardization. Whether you are storing your records in a physical location, on the cloud, or through a hybrid option. Ensure all your staff is trained on the legal records storage process.
Onsite vs. offsite storage
Decide where you want to store your legal records. You can keep them physically in your office, employ a third-party vendor to store them at a secure offsite location, or store them digitally on the cloud. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to know exactly where each file lives and have a system for easily accessing the specific record you need.
If you manually store records in a physical location, consider a microform such as a microfilm or a microfiche to protect files and reduce storage space. Microforms, as the name implies, are micro reproductions of documents. The original hard copy isn’t necessarily destroyed, but a microform can provide a second, smaller, more accessible copy. Some courts will microfilm records as a safety precaution should something happen to the original hard-copy record. Microforms are typically used for medium to long-term storage of inactive court records.
Keeping records on the cloud
Digital record management reduces the need to duplicate documents and provides increased organization, accessibility, and security (with the right safeguarding measures). Storing legal records on the cloud keeps all files in a singular, secure location. Cloud-based legal management software allows lawyers to file documents electronically and save emails and attachments directly to specific matters and records.
According to the 2021 Industry Report, which surveyed over 2,000 legal professionals, 94% of respondents said that document management software made it somewhat or significantly easier to locate documents.
Security and Compliance
Ultimately, all legal records are connected to a client, and that client is trusting your firm with their matter. Providing a client-centered experience and ensuring that sensitive client information is secure should be a priority.
Each state has laws and rules pertaining to record retention, storage, and disposal. For example, the Iowa State Bar states that “lawyers are required to comply with several ethical and legal obligations related to client files” and outlines all record retention policies in this guide.
Your firm will need a document retention policy that states how long you will file records after a case or matter has been resolved. If a client sues you for malpractice, you’ll be better prepared to deal with the issue if you still have a copy of the records pertaining to the matter.
Your firm’s retention policy will also affect the storage space you need. The Los Angeles County Bar Association recommends a minimum retention period of five years past the date the matter was closed.
The Massachusetts State Bar states that “a lawyer shall take reasonable measure to retain a client’s file in a matter until at least six years have elapsed after completion of the matter or termination of the representation in the matter unless the lawyer has transferred the file or items to the client or successor counsel.”
Familiarize yourself with laws from your state bar to ensure your firm meets record-keeping compliance standards.
Disposing of records
As part of your record-keeping database, you’ll need a plan for disposing of records once the retention life cycle ends. Before destroying a record, review it to ensure that your firm will not need it in the future, and be sure to send a letter to a client letting them know that the document is being destroyed.
If you are ready to dispose of the record, permanently delete it, shred it, or simply return it to the client and add it to your inventory. It’s important to keep an inventory of all records that have passed through your firm—even if you’ve disposed of them.
Improve Your Legal Record Storage With MyCase
Update and upgrade your legal record storage with a cloud-based solution like MyCase. Everyday tasks like creating, storing, and searching for legal records can be tiresome and time-consuming. The MyCase legal record management tools will reduce the time spent on non-billable tasks and allow you to focus on what you’re best at—practicing law.
Some of the beneficial features of MyCase include:
Document accessibility and organization
Organize legal records and securely manage documents from anywhere, using the cloud. No matter where you are, you can log into your MyCase solution (from multiple devices) to update documents, get case analytics, and review records. MyCase even lets you save emails and attachments directly to specific matters or cases, ensuring that no vital information is lost.
Streamlined document preparation and signing
Gathering signatures is another time-consuming process that comes with legal record management. With cloud-based software, you can cut down that time. Quickly prepare, review, and send out documents—and conveniently gather eSignatures in just a few clicks.
Integrate your firm’s favorite apps
Ready to try case management record keeping in your firm? Try a risk-free 10-day free trial of MyCase to see how it can provide your firm with more secure, convenient, and organized legal record management. There is no commitment required, and you can cancel anytime.