Drafting Document Retention Policies

Legal Compliance Resource
December 20, 2012 — 1,029 views  

Five Key Elements in a Document Retention Policy

In the age of e-discovery, e-mail, and electronic filing cabinets, a properly drafted document retention policy is needed for most organizations. When putting together a policy for a client, consider these elements when drafting the document.

1. Purpose: Why is the client creating a document retention policy? The client may be creating the policy solely to protect themselves against future litigation. However, the client may also be attempting to create an institutional history by saving documents. Whatever the client's reason, document this in the purpose for the policy.

2. Policy: This section should state the simple policy -- retention of all documents for a certain period of time? For a certain purpose? State the overall policy here.

3. Document Types: In this area of the policy, address the types of documents the client handles. From e-mail to letters, litigation to payroll, finance to studies, all businesses handle a myriad of paper every day. For the policy, identify all the types of paper the client handles on a regular basis. E-mail can be requested during e-discovery in litigation.

4. Time Frames: Some documents should be retained for a longer time period than others. Email is often deleted every twelve months or so due to limited space on computer servers. Paper documents are usually able to hang around a while longer. Whatever the document, whatever the reason, delineate the time frames for retaining each document as part of the policy.

5. Responsibilities: This is a key part of the policy. Is the individual employee responsible for conforming with the document retention policy? Or is a manager or other level supervisor responsible? Who is initially responsible and who enforces the policy? These items need to be stated clearly in the policy. The additional responsibilities may also need to be added to job descriptions to ensure compliance with the policy.

Management should also be aware that implementing the policy properly may take more than just a simple distribution of the policy. A presentation explaining the policy and addressing any staff questions may be the best way to introduce a change in document retention practices.

Remember that any documents related to a pending legal matter should be retained, whether or not the general policy dictates they be destroyed. If a matter is currently being litigated, the client cannot destroy the records.

Properly advising the client can protect the client in pending and future legal matters.


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