Inside Track: Ethical dilemmas: How long must I hold files?:

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    Oct. 20, 2010 – Ethical dilemmas affect every lawyer’s practice. Issues relating to client files, prospective clients, conflicts, trust accounts, confidentiality, tribunals, communication with opposing parties, reporting professional misconduct and advertising arise more frequently than others. This is the first in a series of questions and answers that will appear each month in InsideTrack. The answers, offered by State Bar’s ethics counsel org tpierce wisbar Timothy Pierce, are intended to provide guidance only and are not legal authority. Each situation will depend on the facts and circumstances involved.

    Question

    I’ve been in solo practice for a few years now and I’m starting to run out of room for all the old files. How long do I have to hold on to the old files?

    Answer

    The Rules of Professional Conduct do not impose an obligation to retain client files in perpetuity but do not provide a specific time period to retain closed files. How long a lawyer must retain a specific file depends to a large extent on the underlying matter, but the most commonly suggested minimum is six years, because this is the statute of limitation for certain malpractice actions and lawyers are required to keep trust account records for six years. Another suggestion is 10 years because this is the statute of limitations for filing grievances. Whether a firm chooses six years, 10 years, or some other reasonable period of time to maintain client files, clients should be informed of the firm’s file retention policies.

    For more information, visit the Ethics webpage on WisBar.