Disposing of 5000 Closed Client Files

As promised, I have two articles in draft on the continuing subject of my personal injury practice. I keep thinking of  key events that helped me to understand how to represent individuals injured by the fault of another. You do not just walk out of law school understanding this stuff!

Today I am at the WV Association for Justice (Trial Lawyers) annual meeting and seminar.  I could not have maintained a busy personal injury and trial practice without our Association.

When I am here, I have plenty of time to think. The interruptions of e-mail make that less so, but I have learned to live with multi-tasking.

Today I figured out the next two BIG stages on the way to the goal of having a paperless office. I think I have a good solution for small firm lawyers who have decades of files “in the back room” and have begun to wonder “what if”.

Our office no longer needs to save voluminous paper files. My 5000 closed files, stored on our second floor, will soon be confetti. It will take longer for files younger than ten years, and for my active cases, but I will get there.

I intend to do 1000/day for a total of no more than five days, three if I am lucky. We will need to notify clients in advance that we will close those days and hope they will understand. My staff of four will be running all day, and we need two pair of strong, young, legs, and two extra helpers on the scanners. The nine of us will be a buzz saw.

I will also need the large box from the paper disposal company.

We will set up all 7 of our Fujitsu ScansSnap scanners, and perhaps bring in a couple of “guest scanners”. Assuming at least 5 are running throughout the work day, that equals 100 double sided sheets a minute! This is not a job for our Toshiba Studio 2300. It is a battleship. The ScanSnaps are destroyers, or PT boats. (After careful thought, and some bargaining, I decided we will lease a battleship for at least a few more years. It is a steady, powerful center for our hi tech office. The ScanSnap scanners have taken an important place in our office.)

I will strip each file of its essential 10-15 pages for everything older than ten years. The strong legs will carry each banker box downstairs and strip the metal fasteners and paper clips.They will dispose of everything as we go.

As I strip each file, my memory will be assailed with the people and events of a long career. But, the clients and their families are entitled to confidentiality. Fully outdated materials will simply be shredded.

I will publish ads in Upshur and surrounding counties, offering to return files to any former clients. I suspect few will respond.

We will develop a “rule of thumb” of how much we must save of the last ten years’ files, per State Bar Guidelines. Much of that is digital already, so it will not be as much as you might think.

The other phase is going to take guts. We already scan everything that come through the door. We just need to learn to drop the paper into that box, which will be removed by the disposal company each month.

My sense of freedom is already growing. Now, what shall I do with 30 years’ worth of office equipment and our adult children’s stuff?

And, NO I AM NOT retiring, not for 10-15 years, and not when I am starting to get the hang of this stuff.

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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