The initial consideration for any file retention policy is to determine what actions will be taken regarding the client’s file. Generally, these actions are:
1. Transfer to storage;
2. Transfer to the client;
3. Transfer, per client’s instructions, to a third-party, such as another lawyer or law firm;
4. Destruction of the file.
Each of the actions can require different tasks on a lawyer’s part to ensure the lawyer satisfies his legal and professional obligations.
Lawyers customarily think of the files in their offices as their files. That is, the paper and documents contained in those files belong to them, the lawyers, not their clients. However, in its Formal Opinion 115, binding on all Missouri attorneys, the Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri concluded that under the Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, the file belongs to the client from “cover to cover.”
These Client File Retention and Destruction Guidelines are intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. Because of the unique characteristics of individual law firms, lawyers, clients and representations, no single set of guidelines can cover every situation. Therefore, it is essential that every law firm and lawyer make an independent evaluation of their legal and professional obligations and conform to these guidelines as necessary to meet those requirements.