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Lawyers Should Shred Documents to Protect Themselves and Their Clients

A lawyer works on many issues for clients that involve highly personal matters and financial information that, if disclosed, could cause clients a lot of harm. Unauthorized disclosures would not only be unethical but, depending on the circumstances, could result in a malpractice claim. Here in the Greater Philadelphia Area, we are here to help.  

You’re Under an Ethical Obligation to Take Reasonable Steps to Prevent Unauthorized Information Disclosure

Under Rule 1.6 of Pennsylvania’s Rules of Professional Conduct:

(a)   A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, except for disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation…

(d)   A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client.

(e)   The duty not to reveal information relating to representation of a client continues after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated.

The rule’s notes give more details about why you need to maintain client confidentiality:

  • “A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation…This contributes to the trust that is the hallmark of the client-lawyer relationship.”
  • “The unauthorized access to, or the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, information relating to the representation of a client does not constitute a violation of paragraph (d) if the lawyer has made reasonable efforts to prevent the access or disclosure.”

Revealing information about a client can result in professional discipline. If files and other information on paper are not correctly, regularly destroyed, you could accidentally disclose information about past and present clients. Take reasonable steps (like having and executing a document destruction policy and hiring TITAN Mobile Shredding to properly and securely dispose of your documents and files). You may prevent discipline from happening.

Failing to Shred Former Clients’ Files Could be a Basis for a Malpractice Claim Against You

In a 2019 newsletter, the Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Co. warned attorneys that they need to consider disposing of closed files. They stated:

  • “Files CANNOT be thrown in a dumpster or landfill.”
  • “If shredded, they must be shredded beyond any recognition, usually by cross-shredding, not just ‘ribbon’ shredding.”

If you act negligently and ignore your ethical obligations to keep client information confidential and the client is harmed, there may be grounds for a malpractice lawsuit against you and your firm. Along with a lawsuit may come publicity claiming your firm is sloppy and unprofessional when protecting your clients. That’s not the kind of attention you want.

Get the Help You Need From a Business You Can Trust

Protect yourself, your firm, and your current and past clients by having a system in place to destroy documents and hire TITAN Mobile Shredding to get the job done. If you have any questions about how we shred paper records and computer hard drives, call us at (866) 848-2699. We can discuss your needs and how we can meet them.

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