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What Do I Do with Closed Client Files?

Article: June 1, 2013  |  Malpractice Alerts

This is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive at OBLIC as Director of Loss Prevention. There is not a simple answer to the question. This entire issue of Malpractice Alert is dedicated to providing guidance on the topic. My thanks to Jonathan Coughlan, Disciplinary Counsel , Supreme Court of Ohio, Michelle Hall, Senior Staff Counsel at the Supreme Court Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, and Gene Whetzel, OSBA General Counsel, for their review and comments on this issue. Gretchen Mote, Editor

How Long Must I Keep Closed Client Files?

There is no “magic number” of years to retain closed client files. No record retention rubric is included in the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct or in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

Only two Rules in the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct mention record retention requirements. One is found in Rule 1.4, which specifies at (c), that if a lawyer at the time of the client’s engagement or any time subsequent to the engagement does not maintain legal malpractice insurance of at least one hundred thousand dollars per occurrence and three hundred thousand dollars in the aggregate, the lawyer must notify the client on the form set out in Rule 1.4 and maintain a copy of the notice signed by the client, for five years after termination of representation of the client.

The other time requirement is found in Rule 1.15 of the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires that the lawyer shall hold property of clients or third persons in a lawyer’s possession, separate from the lawyer’s own property. The rule specifies that records of such account funds (IOLTA accounts, etc.) and other property shall be kept by the lawyer for a period of seven years after termination of the representation or the appropriate disbursement of such funds or property, whichever comes first. This rule requires that the lawyer maintain a copy of any fee agreement with each client for the seven-year period, as well as records for each client on whose behalf funds or property are kept, including bank reconciliation documents.

To download the Malpractice Alert and read more, click here: What-Do-I-Do-with-Closed-Client-Files.pdf

Click here to read Opinion 2010-02

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