Paper Client Files v. Digital Client Files: Digital File Management (Practice Tips)

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Ronni Nordal
Bencher, Law Society of Saskatchewan

The Law Society regularly receives enquiries from lawyers regarding the rules relating to the storage, composition, and destruction of client files.  Increasingly, these enquiries include questions relating to the proper use of electronic, or “paperless” filing systems.  Law Society Practice Advisors have indicated that they are seeing a significant increase in attempts by practitioners to run “paperless”, or fully electronic filing systems.  The Rules of the Law Society of Saskatchewan do not dictate either that client files need to be in paper format, or that lawyers are entitled to maintain digital (electronic) client files.  The Rules apply in the same fashion, regardless of the format of a client file. A lawyer must be in a position to produce a complete file to the Law Society or to a Practice Advisor of the Law Society, on demand.

For some, the concept of a digital client file is unnerving, but with the right digital file system, there are many advantages including advanced search capabilities and lack of the need for physical file storage space.  Just as ‘brads’ are an important part of keeping correspondence on a paper client file in chronological order, digital file naming conventions are key for filing correspondence chronologically in a digital client file.

In order to assist members who are maintaining digital client files, or who are thinking about starting a digital practice, the Law Society’s Professional Standards Committee formed a small sub-committee consisting of lawyers Colin Clackson, Q.C., Andrew Mason and Riley Potter, together with Benchers, Ronni Nordal and David Rusnak, Q.C.

Colin, Andrew and Riley all maintain electronic client files, and each has their own way of managing files.  It became clear quite quickly that, just as is the case with paper client files, there are a number of different ways a proper client file can be maintained, and each member will need to determine what works best for him/her.  After sharing ideas and much discussion, the Committee has developed a document entitled “Practice Tips for Maintaining a Digital Practice”, for the assistance of the membership.

We hope these Practice Tips will assist members in setting up and maintaining a proper digital client file system.   To further assist, a webinar will be presented in March 2018 featuring Law Society of Saskatchewan Practice Advisor, Jeffrey Scott, Q.C., and Sub-Committee member, Colin Clackson, Q.C.  Jeff will review the expectations of the Practice Advisors when requesting to review a client file (whether paper or electronic) and some of the pitfalls members have fallen into when not properly maintaining client files.  Colin will then show examples of a digital law practice and client files, that will make even those members who still only have a ‘flip phone’ realize that it truly is possible to have digital client files and a digital law practice. For more information about the upcoming webinar, please visit the Continuing Professional Development page.

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