How long must a lawyer keep client files?
Answer: The Rules of Professional Conduct do not specify how long client files must be retained after representation ends. Prior opinions of the Ethics Advisory Committee suggest that records should be retained for a period of at least six years. At a minimum, file contents should not be disposed of until such time as it is reasonable to believe that their disposal will not prejudice the rights of the client.
Ideally, the attorney and client should enter into an agreement regarding the retention of a file and its disposal at the conclusion of the representation. The attorney should provide the client with sufficient notice of when a file will be destroyed and give the client a reasonable opportunity to obtain the materials to which the client is entitled prior to their destruction.
There appears to be no prohibition against placing the files on a medium, such as computer disk, microfilm or microfiche, and thereafter disposing of the original hard copies, as long as there is no prejudice to the client. The attorney should also make reasonable efforts to insure confidentiality with all suppliers and vendors who would have access to client records.
SCACR 417 requires designated financial records to be kept for six years after termination of representation. The rule provides that records may be maintained by "electronic . . . or other media provided that they otherwise comply with this rule and provided further that printed copies can be produced." SCACR 417(d).
SCRPC Rules 1.15 and 1.16
SCACR 417 (Financial Recordkeeping)
South Carolina Bar Ethics Advisory Opinions: 02-14,98-33, 92-19
Wilcox and Crystal, Annotated South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, pp. 128 and 129.