Here’s How to Manage Legal Records When Your Firm Downsizes Its Office Space


The landscape of 
legal records management is changing as more law firms transition to a hybrid of remote work and on-site work in an office. Here’s how to incorporate offsite document storage and electronic records management into your firm’s document management strategy in the future. 

In January 2020, brokerage firm Cushman & Wakefield conducted a study and asked 500 law firms this question: Do you anticipate your attorneys will work more remotely in the next five years? 78 percent of the law firms responded yes. 

There’s no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic has helped accelerate the transition to a remote workforce, but were the majority of law firms already heading in that that direction anyways?

Rethinking Your Office Space with Offsite Document Storage 

If you’re firm is considering downsizing its office space in the next year, partnering with an offsite document storage provider can help you maintain your current hard-copy records inventory and still reduce the amount of physical space you use. Right now, law firms are spending anywhere from 4% to 14% of revenue on office space. Whether you’re downsizing repurposing your office space to promote more collaboration, boxes of records and filing cabinets are becoming obsolete. Firms are becoming more efficient a progressive. Don’t get left behind still searching for files through stacks of boxes and filing cabinets. 

Downsizing your office space doesn’t mean your firm isn’t growing or succeeding – it means firms are looking for a more efficient and cost-effective answer to the expensive real estate costs coupled with the new hybrid remote work options available — and law firms aren’t alone. Nationwide leases for office spaces of 30,000 square feet or greater dropped 70% in the first five months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. 

A recent report on the state of the legal market by the Center on Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown Law and the Thomson Reuters Institute, stated “U.S. lawyers who now want to work remotely at least one day a week has doubled from the pre-pandemic period. While 37% of lawyers expressed an interest in remote work prior to the pandemic, 76% now favor the remote work option”

Electronic Records Management Supports Downsizing Office Spaces

The study also found that law firms are reporting “greater openness to new practice models, including collaborations with other firms and… alternative legal service providers.” Attorneys who are scanning and implementing electronic records management software are already solving more problems than many of their competitors who are still trying to juggle boxes of hard copy files. Firms that manage records electronically are saving on overhead costs, and are on average 30 percent more efficient than firms still working in a paper-based environment. 

Legal Records Retention for Attorneys in North Carolina

For attorneys downsizing office space and restricting their document management strategy, keep in mind North Carolina’s record retention guidelines for attorneys. According to the North Carolina State Bar Association, here are some guidelines attorneys in NC should follow for legal records retention:

RPC 209 requires a lawyer to retain a client’s file for six years after the file becomes inactive. During the six years, the file may only be destroyed with the consent of the client or, after notice to the client, the client fails to retrieve the file.

Prior to the expiration of the six-year period, may a law firm convert the paper documents in a client’s file into an electronic format, such as magnetic or optical disks readable by computer, store the disks, and destroy the original paper file? Yes, provided: (1) original documents with legal significance, such as wills, contracts, stock certificates, etc., are culled from the paper file and stored in a safe place or returned to the client; and (2) the documents stored in an electronic format can be reproduced in paper format. 

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