1 FIRST DISTRICT APPELLATE PROJECT TRAINING SEMINAR January 17, 2014 ETHICAL REQUIREMENTS OF DOCUMENT RETENTION & DISPOSAL ANYA EMERSON Staff Attorney First District Appellate Project January 2014
2 Ethical Requirements of Document Retention & Disposal 1:00 pm 1:30 pm Presented by Anya Emerson, FDAP Staff Attorney First District Appellate Project January 17, 2014
3 Presenter Anya Emerson Dependency Staff Attorney at the First District Appellate Project Many thanks to Staff Attorney Fran Ternus for her earlier article, Obligations of Appellate Attorney to Turn Over Files to Appellant/Successor Counsel (Jan. 24, 2004) First District Appellate Project <
4 Contents of a Client Case File Communications with appellant - typically, letters or s to and from appellant and notes of telephone conversations with appellant Formal documents and transcripts - such as filed pleadings and briefs, court orders and opinions, as well as discovery and the verbatim transcripts of the proceedings. Work product - defined as a writing that reflects an attorney s impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal research or theories. (Code Civ. Proc., , subd. (a).) May be in electronic and/or hard copy format Client case files are now typically comprised of manila folders, bound briefs, records, and transcripts, along with electronic files on hard drives, laptops, CDs, DVDs, memory sticks, and on- and off-site servers.
5 Ethical Standards on Client Case Files The File Belongs to the Client As a general rule, the entire contents of the case file other than attorney work product belong to the client and must be provided to the client or successor counsel at the client s request. (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn ; see also Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 3-700(D)(1).) Work Product Exception There is no bar against giving a former client access to work product. The only question is whether the attorney can withhold the work product from the former client. An attorney has an ethical obligation to deliver work product to a former client, upon request, where the failure to do so will result in reasonably foreseeable prejudice to the rights of the former client or where a court orders the work product produced. (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn [ Thus, the attorney must turn over all papers and property in the client's file to the client or to successor counsel. This would include the entire contents of the file... and includes work product reasonably necessary to the client's defense. ].)
6 Rule 3-700: Client Papers and Property Rule 3-700(D)(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of California provides as follows: Subject to any protective order or non-disclosure agreement, promptly release to the client, at the request of the client, all the client papers and property. Client papers and property includes correspondence, pleadings, deposition transcripts, exhibits, physical evidence, expert s reports, and other items reasonably necessary to the client's representation, whether the client has paid for them or not.... (Rules Prof. Conduct, rule (D)(1).) The attorney must make such release of client papers and property at no cost to the client.
7 Electronic Client Case Files Must Also be Released at Client s Request Client papers and property is not a static concept. It includes items in electronic as well as nonelectronic form. (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No ) Upon client s request, Attorney must release to the client the electronic versions of all papers and property in question, at Attorney s expense, after first stripping each document of any and all metadata that contains confidential information belonging to other clients. (Id. at 3, citing Bus. & Prof. Code, 6068, subd. (e)(1).)
8 Preserving Confidentiality Transferring, retaining, and disposing of electronic and non-electronic client case files implicates confidentiality concerns. A lawyer has a duty to maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself, preserve the secrets of his or her client. (Bus. & Prof. Code, 6068, subd. (e)(1)). A member shall not reveal information protected from disclosure by Business and Professions Code section 6068, subdivision (e)(1) without the informed consent of the client. (Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 3-100(A).) The client s confidential information may not be revealed absent the informed written consent of the client. (Rule 3-100(A); Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No ; Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No )
9 File Belongs to Client: Practical Implications During the pendency of the appeal: Clients should be contemporaneously sent copies of pleadings and opinions as filed. When the appeal is over: Send client (or designee) the record on appeal (reporter s and clerk s transcripts). Doing so will help reduce costs and risks associated with long-term file storage. Upon the client s request, send client (or designee) the entire client case file, including attorney work product if withholding it would be prejudicial to the client. What this means in practice: Affirmatively encourage your client to accept the transcripts, if possible. Ensure confidentiality: If your client cannot or will not accept the transcripts (e.g., is incarcerated and the records reveal him to be a child molester), ask him/her if you can send them to a designated friend or family member. Where cases involve long records or sensitive information, make sure to get permission first from your client before sending the transcripts. Redact confidential information as appropriate (see below). Remove metadata if sending electronic files (see below). Send transcripts (make sure to verify address first). Optional: Scan and retain an electronic copy of the transcripts for your own records. Retain remainder of case file in long-term storage, including attorney work product, billing documents, etc.
10 Required Redactions Certain information must be redacted before releasing to the client case file materials and transcripts: Jurors names must be redacted from the record. (Code Civ. Proc., 237.) Further redaction may be required if, for example, you obtained files or documents (including police reports) from trial counsel. For instance, victims and witnesses addresses and phone numbers received by trial counsel in discovery pursuant to section , subdivision (a) of the Penal Code cannot be disclosed to anyone, including the defendant. (See Pen. Code, ) A victim of a sex offense may request nondisclosure of his/her name and/or address as well. (See Pen. Code, 293; Gov. Code, 6254, subd. (f)(2).) Dependency cases: Identity of mandatory reporters (Pen. Code, 11167) and names and addresses of foster parents may be confidential. (See e.g. Welf. & Inst. Code, 308(a), Cal. Rules of Court, rule 5.715, 5.720, ) See FDAP s Appeals Checklist, < See Elaine Alexander, Confidential Records (Dec. 2011) Appellate Defenders Inc. < sion.pdf>
11 Turning Over Electronic Files to Clients: Removing Metadata What is metadata? Data about data Metadata is hidden information about the document, which may include, for instance, comments, revisions, versions, annotations, document properties, invisible content and hidden text. Much metadata may be considered attorney work product, and may be treated the same as work product found in paper files, and may not need to or should not be disclosed to clients. (Orange County Bar Formal Opn ) All word processors attach metadata by default.
12 Removing Metadata cont. Metadata should be removed from electronic documents released to clients Upon client s request, Attorney must release to the client the electronic versions of all papers and property in question, at Attorney s expense, after first stripping each document of any and all metadata that contains confidential information belonging to other clients. (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No )
13 How to Remove Metadata: Instructions & Links General guide (Incl. OpenOffice): Official Microsoft instructions on removing hidden data from 2010/2013 editions of their software: Word: HA aspx Excel: HA aspx?CTT=1 Powerpoint: Removing metadata from earlier editions of MS Word: Removing metadata from Word 2011 for Mac: Removing WordPerfect metadata: X3: Any edition: Note that WordPerfect editions 13 and later have the option of choosing Save without metadata *FDAP has not tested, nor does it endorse, any of these products or procedures.
14 Retention of Client Case Files General rule for criminal attorneys: the client case file must be retained for the life of the client not the life of the attorney. Many of your clients may outlive you! Your obligation to retain client case files will likely persist after your death or incapacitation.
15 Reasons to Retain Client Case Files Criminal defense attorneys should retain files for the life of the client for multiple reasons, including: Habeas petitions, including ineffective assistance of counsel; malpractice claims; three-strikes defense; and actual innocence claims.
16 Retention of Files Cont. Juvenile Delinquency Case Files Same standards apply as in criminal cases Should also be retained for the life of the client Juvenile Dependency Case Files: Gray area between civil and criminal Should be retained for a substantial time period, if not the life of the client(?) Previous dependency cases may impact current and future dependencies (See e.g. Welf. & Inst. Code, 361.5, subds. (b)(10), (b)(11).)
17 Statutory Law on File Retention No California statute expressly governs client file retention BUT: A lawyer has a duty to maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself, preserve the secrets of his or her client. (Bus. & Prof. Code, 6068, subd. (e)(1)).
18 State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct California's professional standards are generally silent about lawyers' duties to maintain former clients' files. For instance, rule 3-700(D)(1) does not establish a fixed time period for which any particular item must be retained. Moreover, it does not provide guidance on when, if ever, a particular item may be discarded.
19 State Bar Formal Opinion on File Retention Although not binding authority, the State Bar of California Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct has issued a formal opinion on attorneys duties in retaining clients files. Specifically, the committee held that "client files in criminal matters should not be destroyed without the former client's express consent while the former client is alive." (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No )
20 Other Ethics Opinions on File Retention In a criminal matter, the lawyer must maintain the file for the life of the former client, unless authorized by the former client to destroy it or otherwise release it. Considerations pertaining to the criminal defendant s liberty interest in the proceedings and to the possibility of review of a criminal convictions by appeal or writ (even many years after conviction) warrant especially cautious treatment of criminal case files. (L.A. County Bar Assn. Formal Opn. No. 420.)
21 Other Ethics Opinions cont. If the client does not request the file, the client's right to the file continues after termination of the attorney-client relationship. Opinion No. 475 suggests file retention for at least five years after the matter is closed may be appropriate in some civil cases, but quotes Op. No. 420 that criminal files must be maintained for the life of the former client. (L.A. County Bar Assn. Formal Opn. No. 475 and No. 330.)
22 Other Ethics Opinions cont. The length of time papers must be maintained depends upon the nature of the document, the nature of the services rendered to the client, and any other factors to determine whether prejudice to the client would arise by destruction of the papers. We must stress that [the State Bar rules] do not address the number of years which an attorney must retain client papers. There is no rule that provides such a time period and, in our view, no rule should. The key... is the attorney s obligation as a bailee of the client s personal property and the need to retain papers which are necessary to preclude reasonably foreseeable prejudice to the client. This duty cannot be discharged merely by reference to a fixed time period. (S.F. Bar Assn. Formal Opn )
23 Ethics Opinions cont. In a 1977 informal opinion, the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility specifically refused to mandate a definitive time period during which a lawyer must preserve all files and beyond which s/he is free to destroy all files, advising instead that an attorney must use good common sense. While noting that a lawyer does not have a general duty to preserve all of his files permanently, the Committee cautioned against the destruction of original documents belonging to the client, the discarding of information that may be useful in the assertion or defense of the client s position, or the destruction of information that the client may need, has not previously been given to the client, and is not otherwise readily available to the client, and which the client may reasonably expect will be preserved by the lawyer. (ABA Com. on Ethics & Prof. Resp., informal opn. No (1977).
24 The Million Dollar Question: Can I retain my criminal client case files solely in electronic format? For example, may I scan client files, save them in pdf format, and then destroy the hard-copy documents? No California statute, ethical standard or bar opinion has yet to directly address this issue. The State Bar has clearly opined that criminal case files should not be destroyed without the former client's express consent while the former client is alive. (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No )
25 Million Dollar Question cont. Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No , which concluded that client files in criminal matters should not be destroyed without the former client s express consent while the former client is alive, does not appear to bar electronic storage and destruction of hard copies. It was in answer to a different question (primarily length of file retention, not format), and is now more than a decade old. Its warning about electronic documents was a caveat to a statement allowing storage by microfilm or similar means : Not all recording by electronic means will suffice to protect the client from reasonably foreseeable prejudice. As indicated by Government Code section et seq., not all devices used to reproduce records accurately reproduce the originals in all details without permitting additions, deletions, or changes to the original document images. (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No )
26 Retention of Particular Hard Copy Documents Particular hard-copy documents may need to be retained or should be retained by law: Current Rules of Court require the retention of certain original documents signed under penalty of perjury or by multiple parties (e.g., stipulations) for electronic filing purposes. (Rules of Court, rule 8.77(a), 8.77(c).) Original declarations (especially by lay people or witnesses) should be retained (e.g., in habeas cases, to ensure authenticity) Original documents of independent legal significance (wills, trusts, etc.) must be maintained pursuant to the Probate Code. Death certificate (e.g., in appeal abated) Exculpatory letter from a third-party to the defendent Naturalization records and certificates of citizenship may not be copied (18 U.S.C )
27 Other Ethics Opinions on Electronic Document Retention Arizona Opinion (6/2007) In appropriate cases and with appropriate safeguards, a lawyer ethically may keep active and closed client files as electronic images in an attempt to maintain a paperless law practice, with the understanding that he or she may need to provide paper versions to the client and any subsequent attorney. However, until the file legitimately may be destroyed... a lawyer may not, without client consent, destroy original paper documents [except for letters to the attorney from the client] that belong to or were obtained from the client. Similarly, a lawyer may not, without client consent, convert to digital images and then destroy photocopies or facsimiles of documents obtained from the client if the lawyer has reason to know the client expects the lawyer to keep the paper documents.
28 Other Ethics Opinions cont. Maine Opinion 183 (1/28/04) finds that a lawyer may store client correspondence and documents in electronic format without keeping a paper copy, but must retain them in a way that permits the client and the lawyer to access them in the future. For example, the lawyer may need to retain old versions of software in order to ensure access to particular documents.
29 Other Ethics Opinions cont. Missouri Opinion (11/01-12/01) advises that a lawyer who wants to scan closed client files onto a CD-ROM may not then dispose of the hard copy of the files without the clients' permission. The hard copy of a file belongs to the client.
30 Other Ethics Opinions cont. Virginia Ethics Opn (9/30/05) Finding no per se ethical prohibition against maintaining paperless client files, the panel concluded that lawyers generally may destroy paper copies of documents if the client consents and may retain only scanned electronic copies, except for items that have independent legal significance such as testamentary documents and marriage certificates. Subject to the need to preserve such documents, lawyers may even require clients to consent to electronic files as a condition for representation in the first place.
31 Ethical implications of electronic document storage Attorney must take reasonable steps to protect and secure the client s information (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No ; Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No ) Must ensure confidentiality (e.g., choose data service providers with care, and use firewalls, secure user names & passwords, encryption, anti-virus software etc.) Must ensure digital backups exists (extra hard drive, storage in the cloud, off-site server, etc.) Must ensure electronic files are maintained in readily-accessible format (i.e., no more floppy disks!) Must ensure your designated successor counsel knows how to access the information if necessary (identity of passwords, location of hard drives) Try to save documents in non-modifiable format (e.g., pdf rather than Word version).
32 Ethical Obligations for Document Destruction and Disposal If, in your professional judgment, a document (or copy thereof) can be discarded, what ethical obligations apply? Duties of confidentiality and client secrets continue (Prof. Conduct, rule 3-100(A).) Thus, the duty stated in section 6068, subdivision (e) applies to the storage, handling, and ultimate disposition of the files and papers of former clients. Accordingly, the attorney is obliged to use a method of destruction that will ensure no breach of confidentiality. (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No )
33 Practical Implications All hard copy documents which can be destroyed must be shredded or otherwise rendered indecipherable. (See Civil Code , which provides for penalties up to $3000 for a violation of this requirement.) Personal client information cannot simply be thrown in the trash. Confidentiality must be preserved pursuant to Business and Professions Code 6068, subd. (e) and Evidence Code 950 et seq. [attorneyclient privilege] Both paper and digital shredding services are commonly available (e.g., Green Citizen, Corovan)
34 Disposal of Electronic Data Electronic documents and equipment must also be digitally shredded. (Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No ) A free program for PCs is a Microsoft product called SDelete, for secure delete, which writes over the relevant portions of the hard drive. Download available at: A similar free program For Macs is Eraser : Download available at: Eraser/ _ html *FDAP has not tested, nor does it endorse, any of these products.
35 Digital Shredding cont. Securely delete files from a Mac: delete_files.html Securely delete files from a PC (with product recs and screen shots): Securely wipe a hard drive or flash drive with Roadkill's Disk Wipe: *FDAP has not tested, nor does it endorse, any of these products.
36 Bibliography Materials on Client File Retention, ABA Center for Professional Responsibility, < sibility/services/ethicsearch/materials_on_client_file_reten tion.html> Fran Ternus, Obligations of Appellate Attorney to Turn Over Files to Appellant/Successor Counsel (Jan. 24, 2004) First District Appellate Project < Elaine Alexander, Confidential Records (Dec. 2011) Appellate Defenders Inc. < ORDS_PDF_version.pdf>
37 List of Relevant California Ethics Sources Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 3-700(D)(1) [ client papers and property belong to the client]. Rules Prof. Conduct, rule 3-100(A) [do not reveal client s confidential information without informed consent]. Cal. State Bar Formal Opn [attorney must release client file to client and/or successor counsel, including work product if otherwise prejudicial]. Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No [retention and destruction of former client files] Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. No [electronic files must be released to client without metadata]. Cal. State Bar Formal Opn. Nos & [must take reasonable steps to ensure confidentiality of electronic client information]. S.F. Bar Assn. Formal Opn [no fixed time period for file retention]. L.A. County Bar Assn. Formal Opn. Nos. 420 & 475 [criminal files must be maintained for life of client]. ABA Com. on Ethics & Prof. Resp., informal opn. No (1977) [use common sense, but do not destroy documents client may need]. ABA Com. on Ethics & Prof. Resp., Formal Opn (1992) [solo practitioners must have a plan in place in case of death].
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