Ethical Responsibilities for Client Files: Facing Piles of Files with Smiles (Online Seminar)

MCLE Credits: 1.5
Ethics Credits Included: 1.5

MCLE Credit: 1.5 (Ethics: 1.5)
Live-Interactive Credit: 0.0
Price: $110 (Includes a downloadable audio version.)
Viewable Through: 2/28/2019


A pre-recorded streaming VIDEO replay of one session from the March 2016 webcast, Ethical Responsibilities for Client Files: Facing Piles of Files with Smiles.

Why Attend?

Get answers to these questions and many others:

  • Surely the client has the right to his or her legal file, but to what degree? 
  • When does the responsibility shift from lawyer to client? 
  • How long must files be kept? 
  • How should the lawyer dispose of client files? 
  • Must a former client be contacted before his file is destroyed? 
  • Are there documents in the file that the lawyer may withhold?

A lawyer’s duty to maintain a client’s file and to deliver documents to the client is based on Rules 1.15 and 1.16 of the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. What do these rules mean exactly? What must the lawyer do with files and requests for files?

The electronic age and the ability to e-mail are helping to cut down on the mounds of paper a lawyer has for each client. But files in electronic form and e-mails bring their own set of ethical dilemmas in regards to security. What are the lawyer’s ethical obligations when storing digital client files? Can the lawyer outsource file storage to a third-party vendor? What precautions are required under the ethics rules?

Bar counsel has fielded many questions in this area, to the clients and to attorneys. Learn what the lawyer must do, including:

  1. What is the lawyer’s obligation when the client discharges the lawyer in an ongoing legal matter and demands the file?
  2. Is the obligation any different when the lawyer is no longer actively representing the client and demands the file?
  3. May the lawyer charge the client for expenses incurred in producing a copy of the file?
  4. May the lawyer withhold the file as security for unpaid legal fees?
  5. May the lawyer withhold the file if the client refuses to pay for the costs of producing a copy of the file?
  6. How long must a lawyer maintain a former client’s closed file?  What documents must be kept in the file?  What are the rules for destroying files?
  7. What procedures should a lawyer have in place regarding client file retention and destruction?
  8. Can files be e-mailed to clients?  What are the ethical red flags here?
  9. Can the law office go paperless and have only electronic files?  If the lawyer keeps a client’s file in digital format, and the client demands a copy of the file, must it be produced in digital format?
  10. What should a lawyer do if he or she wants to destroy a former client’s file and the client cannot be located to be given notice?
  11. May client files be stored “in the cloud?”



James M. McCauley, Virginia State Bar / Richmond
James M. McCauley is the Ethics Counsel for the Virginia State Bar, and manages the staff counsel serving the Standing Committees on Legal Ethics, Unauthorized Practice of Law, and Lawyer Advertising and Solicitation. He and his staff write the draft advisory opinions for the Standing Committees and provide informal advice over the telephone to members of the bar, bench, and general public on matters involving legal ethics, lawyer advertising, and the unauthorized practice of law. Mr. McCauley frequently lectures and publishes articles on matters relating to legal ethics and the unauthorized practice of law. He teaches Professional Responsibility at the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond.

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