Managing Data in Your Client Files

Psst.!  We have a new co-Author – Bill Cobb, Assistant General Counsel in the State Bar’s Office of the General Counsel.  You will learn more about him later.  

Data is big right now!  How do you secure all of the information that comes into your possession or knowledge, especially the digital data that just doesn’t seem to stop?  For lawyers, it can be a tricky proposition.  One of the most frequent questions we get is, “how long do I have to keep client files,” and while this question has some clear parameters, what about all the other information that is kept on a daily basis by law firms?  What happens to all that data?  Well, perhaps we’ll get to that in some of our next posts, but for now let’s focus just on client file data.

The first thing lawyers can do to better manage data from client files is to create a plan specifically identifying what is to be saved and what is to be destroyed and when.  This plan, of course, will need to ensure proper steps are being taken to comply with the State Bar’s ethics rules, but also any other rules or regulations pertaining to your client’s data.  Because they are so important, let’s spend some time with these rules.

The only State Bar ethics rule (Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct) specifically requiring data retention is one of the trust account rules, 1.15(I)(a): “Complete records of such account funds and other property shall be kept by the lawyer and shall be preserved for a period of six years after termination of the representation.”  The Rule 1.6 obligation of non-disclosure, which continues after the representation ends, means that all retained records pertaining to a client matter, whether required by Rule 1.15(I)(a) or not, should be reasonably secured against inadvertent disclosure.  Beyond that, record retention policies and practices are often determined in consultation with the lawyer’s professional malpractice carrier.

Rule 1.16(d) requires “surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled” when the representation ends, i.e., returning the client’s file, and you should assume that it includes “papers” in electronic form.  Of course, not all clients want their files, but to protect against allegations of violating Rule 1.16(d), good practice is to give clients a written opportunity to obtain their files before an identified possible destruction date.  The client is entitled to the original file, the lawyer can keep a copy at his/her own expense (unless the client agreed in advance to bear that cost), and the file cannot be withheld due to unpaid fees or copying costs.  Formal Advisory Opinion No. 87-5.  Copies sent to the client during the course of the case may not satisfy this obligation.  Adams v. Putnam County, 290 Ga. App. 20, 21, 658 S.E.2d 805, 807 (2008).  Limited types of documents need not be given to clients. Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers v. Henry, 276 Ga. 571, 573 and n.3 (2003).

As for other rules and regulations, make sure you identify the firm’s role in keeping personal confidential information, health information and personal financial records.   Each of these types of data may require special steps.  Check with current regulatory agencies and related entities’ websites and portals for current requirements.

When creating file retention and destruction policies make sure they comply strictly with these rules  and regulations.  Law firms are going to need to be proactive in protecting data obtained for and in the course of representation.  Information gathered for client files before, during and after the representation should be reviewed to ascertain proper management.   To get additional help with your retention and destruction policies, give either the Bar’s Law Practice Management Program or  Ethics Hotline a call to discuss concerns and best practices!

  • Natalie & Bill

Disclaimer:  Interpretations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (ethics rules) and their applicability in this blog post are informal opinions issued pursuant to Bar Rule 4-401.  They are the personal opinions of the Assistant General Counsel co-author, and are neither a defense to any complaint nor binding on the State Disciplinary Board, the Supreme Court of Georgia or the State Bar of Georgia.

Take Charge – What a Successful Solo and Small Firm Conference Looks Like

Well, I wasn’t in attendance this year, as I was out on a leave of absence.  Bummer!  But, if what I have heard since my return to work is any indication of what the attendees at this year’s Solo and Small Firm Institute enjoyed, this was a successful solo and small firm conference!  Because pictures can speak louder than words, here’s what you missed if you didn’t attend this year.

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From the bustling Exhibit Hall area to the sometimes standing-room only sessions, attendees are still talking to me about this year’s conference and telling me they are looking forward to attending next year.  You can also check out  the conference as it was featured in the Daily Report, here.

With help from the General Practice and Trial Section and other key sponsors, the Law Practice Management Program and the event’s Chair, Kathleen Womack, were able to showcase presentations from national experts – Sharon Nelson, John Simek and James “Jim” Calloway; and our very own high-profile local experts on all things solo and small firm practice! You can see all of the sessions presented and wonderful presenters listed here.  Thanks everyone for all of your dedication and hard work!

We can’t wait for you to join us next year!  Save the date. July 14th & 15th, 2017!

– Natalie



Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! Check Out Our New Look and Feel!!!

So, as with many things these days, we are focused on changes.  Well, obviously you’ve noticed our new layout and style.  Let me know what you think of our new digs here at the Georgia Practice Advisor.  We are looking forward to offering you a cleaner experience with more content and more helpful practice resources and information.

Next, there has been a change in our authorship, as Tina Petrig has moved on from the Office of General Counsel.  We wish her the best and look forward to her replacement.  In the meantime, you get to hear from me – Natalie Kelly- with a lone view from the law practice management angle for now.

Stay tuned for a wrap-up post from this year’s Solo and Small Firm Institute.  I wasn’t able to attend this year, but you will see for yourself why I’m sad for having to miss it.

Natalie Robinson Kelly

Day 2 and Post TECHSHOW Thoughts

TECHSHOW 2016  seemed to pass by in an almost blur.  It was quick and fun!  So what were some activities for Day 2 and the final day of the conference you ask.  Well for starters, there were still plenty of opportunities to meet new attendees – there seemed a good number from what I could surmise – and to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances.

While working as a volunteer at the show’s Concierge Booth, I learned that many new attendees were at this year’s event, and that the show’s app for the iPad was not listed as an iPad -only app, and iPad users needed to look for the app differently in the Apple App Store.  Also, there were only a few slots left for people to sign up for Taste of TECHSHOW – a dutch treat event created around general legal technology topics and hosted by a related vendor and current year ABA TECHSHOW speakers.

After the Concierge Booth, the first femaleTECHSHOW keynoter, Cindy Cohn, kept the audience intrigued with her tales of data privacy and security.  I bumped into her before her presentation, and it was a nice way to start TECHSHOW and its apparent theme of data security.

I selected dinner hosted by Heidi Alexander, who is a Practice Management Advisor  from Massachusetts.  The dinner was sponsored by CosmoLex, a great practice management system available in the cloud.  Even though we were at dinner to discuss practice management systems, the focus of much of the conversation had to do with Heidi’s new initiative on Women in Technology with the Legal Technology Resource Center.  There were no specific details that Heidi could immediately share, but I can assure you we will watch out for programming along these lines soon.

The final session on which I served as moderator was well executed and offered up the best in apps for iOS and Android developers, and a lot of laughs and oohs and aahs, too!

Overall, TECHSHOW 2016 packed a lot of powerful information on cyber risk and data security sorely needed for practitioners in this new normal where a lot of work happens online!

– Natalie


Day 1 was a whirlwind of activity. Here’s a quick snapshot:

After a great meeting the day before with the Bar Leader Institute attendees – I presented on a panel on Managing Technology with Catherine Sanders Reach, Danielle Hall, and Jim Calloway at a pre-session – I started the day attending the TECHSHOW Opening Session that directed attendees to educational sessions, the Expo Hall and the James Keane Award Luncheon.

At the Keane Award Luncheon, we were presented with the winning automated services vendor forms service for a Colorado program, and the numbers behind the most recent ABA Legal Technology Survey from my fellow LTRC (Legal Technology Resource Center) Board members.

Later, in the day was able to then look for and prepare for my 4:00 session with Joseph Bahgat — Effective Practice Management Systems Yield Focused Lawyering. This session was packed with attendees and started rocky with me, Joe and the conference hotel’s A/V guy fighting with the presentation technology. After our apologies though, the session went smoothly and based on the great comments afterwards, I was comfortable calling it a success!

The evening ended with my attending the 30th Anniversary celebration of TECHSHOW, where I was introduced as one of the former TECHSHOW Chairs (2014) by fellow Atlanta consultant, Steve Best, of Affinity Consulting, who is this year’s Chair.

Day 1 was exciting! Stay tuned for the snapshot of Day 2’s activities.

– Natalie

‘Tis the Season

Happy Holidays to you and yours from Tina & Natalie!

With the official season of good will closing in, many lawyers and firms will be thinking about appropriate gifts to give clients, other firms, courthouse personnel, and other professional contacts.  While this is a genuine expression of your appreciation and also effective marketing, we have just a couple of words of caution.

When giving gifts to those who regularly refer clients to you, be mindful of Rule 7.3(c) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct:  A lawyer shall not compensate or give anything of value to a person or organization to recommend or secure the lawyer’s employment by a client, or as a reward for having made a recommendation resulting in the lawyer’s employment by a client.  So, for example, if you want to give a gift to the real estate broker who refers closing business, or a medical provider who refers personal injury clients, a therapist who refers family law matters, or another lawyer who refers cases outside her area of practice, it is best to keep the gift modest.  It should be a general token of appreciation that does not carry the appearance or reality of compensation for any particular referrals.  The value of the gift should not reflect that you have had a particularly good year from the referrals from the recipient.

So, what are some good gift ideas for lawyers?  Despite bottles of wine, game tickets,  fruit and gift baskets still being popular choices, some traditional gifts are now being supplanted by donations to charities in the recipient lawyer’s or firm’s name.   You can select charities on sites like Charity Navigator,  Also, the number of online sources for gift ideas for lawyers has burgeoned.   Check out some of the long-running gift suggestion providers like Reid Trautz’s Holiday Gift Guide on his blog, Reid My Blog! at or the shopping site, Café Press, with their  lawyer gift ideas at  Want to see what else there is out there, try Amazon’s Gifts for Lawyers at or even the American Bar Association’s Great Gifts for Lawyers page under their Special Collections at

Finding ideas for thanking those who have referred business or just celebrating by extending Seasons’ Greetings is relatively easy, but don’t forget that you should always be mindful of the gift you are giving to ensure it reaches its purpose without going beyond the limits of your ethical duties.

Tina & Natalie