Volunteer Procedures: Document Retention

Under the DC Rules of Professional Responsibility, lawyers are required to retain a client’s file for five years after a case closes. While in the past, volunteers have been responsible for retaining their own case files, DCVLP now has a secure, central electronic storage facility to retain case files.

Accordingly, we now request that all volunteers (except those affiliated with law firms, who are subject to their own file retention policies) return case files to DCVLP for storage at the close of each case. In addition, volunteers may, if they wish, transfer their old closed case files to DCVLP for safe, secure storage.

Who can send DCVLP files for file storage? 

All attorneys who ever took a case with DCVLP, whether as a lead or a shadow, IF the volunteer was covered by DCVLP’s malpractice insurance. Attorneys affiliated with law firms, or solo practitioners covered by their own malpractice policies, are responsible for maintaining their own client files, and should not send them to DCVLP for storage.

What files may be transferred to DCVLP? 

The general rule is that client files must be retained for five years from the date a case closes, but that date may depend on the type of case involved. To avoid confusion, volunteers may send us ALL closed case files, and DCVLP will then make a decision regarding how long to retain these files, based on an analysis of the Rules.

What constitutes “the file”? 

Anything that could be helpful to the client if in the future the case re-opens. This includes the following:

  • All court filings.
  • Any exhibits used in a trial or hearing.
  • Attorney notes, including notes of interviews with the client and witnesses (handwritten notes can be mailed in; no need to type them up or scan them).
  • Correspondence, including emails between the client and the attorney and between the attorney and opposing counsel or others regarding the case.
  • Emails and notes of meetings between the volunteer and the DCVLP supervising attorney.
  • Discovery requests and responses.
  • Any client or other investigative records obtained by the attorney, including educational, medical and other records.
  • Documents prepared in anticipation of a hearing or trial.

If in doubt, please feel free to err on the side of sending the document to DCVLP. For questions about what should be in the file, please contact DCVLP’s Legal Director, Sara Tennen (stennen@dcvlp.org).

NOTE: Not all information in a client file is appropriate to turn over to the client. If/when a client requests his/her file from DCVLP, we will analyze and redact the file as appropriate, with input from the volunteer attorney.

What should I do with my current files once the case is completed? 

Effective immediately, all volunteers covered by DCVLP’s malpractice insurance must ensure that DCVLP has a copy of the complete client file once their case has closed. To do so, volunteers should follow the following procedures:

  • Volunteers should cc or bcc their supervisor on all email correspondence with the client, opposing counsel and/or opposing party. This will ensure that DCVLP has a copy of all relevant correspondence in its database, which will be kept for the required length of time. This will eliminate the need for volunteers to organize and send all case-related emails to DCVLP when a case closes.
  • At the close of a case, volunteers should send the hard copy or electronic case file (excluding emails, as described above) to DCVLP for transferring to closed case files.
  • If the volunteer knows that a case will be closed after the current hearing, e.g. for CPO cases, he or she may simply bring a hard copy of the case file and give it to the supervisor in court at the close of the case.

How can closed cases be transferred to DCVLP?

  • Send an email to clientfiles@dcvlp.org with the file documents, as well as a completed Cover Form, included as attachments; or,
  • Bring or mail the file documents, as well as a completed Cover Form, to: DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, Client Files, 5335 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Ste. 440, Washington, DC 20015.

With questions, please contact your case supervisor. For reimbursement of mailing costs, please email DCVLP’s Operations Director, Isabelle Johnson (ijohnson@dcvlp.org).

Click here to download a DCVLP case file cover form.