Records management…

Legal practice directors of incorporated legal practices are required to ensure they have appropriate management systems in place, but the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre recommends all practices (whether ILP, sole trader or partnership) have appropriate management systems in place.1

There are 10 areas identified in which appropriate management systems ought to be implemented in order to comply with the Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld). Maintaining appropriate records management systems is one of the 10 areas.

Records management is more than simply implementing a computerised legal practice management system. Whilst a computerised system can help provide centralised client data and matter management, law firms need to ensure all staff are adequately trained to ensure accurate records are maintained.

Appropriate records management systems make good business sense as they can increase efficiencies and are also an effective risk mitigation strategy. It is important to be able to trace documents from the point of delivery to the practice, storage, and their subsequent release through the use of file and document registers.

For documents created within the practice, knowing when the document was created, by whom, and whether it has been revised can be important. Document access settings such as editing versus read-only access permissions can also ensure the integrity of your documents and prevent inadvertent amendment or deletion.

This month, we are highlighting resources to help ensure you have appropriate records management systems in your office to make sure appropriate records management systems are implemented and maintained by all staff. Keep a lookout on our QLS Solicitor Support LinkedIn Group, and Instagram for further posts.

We will look at:

  • The importance of traceability – can you locate and track documents, files, evidence, and safe custody packets and their contents quickly and easily?
  • Do you have a policy about removing physical files from the office? Do you keep a register of files removed from, and returned to, the office?
  • Do you have a policy about accessing electronic files remotely and storage of files on local hard drives of remote machines or on removable drives?
  • Do you have a file saving protocol for electronic records or is each file author saving documents according to their own preference?
  • How are you preserving voicemail communications, SMS messages, and web chat histories?
  • Are you promptly recording all attendances (telephone, video, personal attendances) in a comprehensive file note?
  • Do you have version control for draft documents?
  • Have you considered your records management system and procedures from the perspective of your duty of confidentiality? If practitioners are working from home, what safeguards are in place to ensure client details are kept confidential?
  • Do your records adequately manage your practice’s financial responsibilities?
  • What systems do you have in place to warn you that your work in progress is close to the current quoted fee estimate and an update is required?
  • Do you have a centralised diary system and procedures for bring-ups and key dates?
  • What should you look for when searching for legal practice management software?
  • How secure are your file storage systems?
  • How organised is your archive system? Can you easily locate an archived file?
  • Do you return client documents at the termination of your retainer?
  • Are you regularly conducting file audits?

Importantly, are all of your staff trained to use and maintain your records in accordance with established procedures? Who is responsible for implementing and overseeing compliance within your practice?

The Practice Advisory Service is a complimentary service for sole/micro practices across Queensland and can assist you with the above issues and other practice management queries. For more information or to book a practice visit, contact the QLS Ethics and Practice Centre on 07 3842 5843 or email ethics@qls.com.au.

Footnote
1 Legal Profession Act 2007 (Qld) s117(3).

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