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This blog from 2014 covers things to consider while closing a file.

Sometimes near enough can be good enough but not when it comes to legal practice.

One of the simplest examples is completion of the retainer and file closing. While finishing files off properly may seem straightforward, poor attention to the basics gives rise to claims every year.

All legal practices are encouraged to have a policy requiring files be closed promptly at the conclusion of every matter, with a compulsory file closing checklist completed by the relevant practitioner.

How does your practice ensure that at the conclusion of every matter the responsible practitioner is satisfied each of the following has been actioned:

  • completing all steps needed to fulfil duties and obligations owed to the client, including stamping and registration of documents, responding to requisitions and service of court orders
  • writing to the client either confirming the matter is at an end or the retainer is terminated and reminding the client about applicable arrangements for retention and destruction of the file (these should be agreed with the client at the beginning of the retainer)
  • rendering a final account or advising the client nil owing
  • accounting for any money held in trust
  • spelling out any outstanding issues requiring attention and by when including advice on any applicable time limit and the consequences if missed
  • where the matter involves a deadline for the exercise of an option or the renewal or registration of a licence or other document, making clear who is responsible for exercising the option, renewal or registration
  • putting all loose documents on the file, retrieving briefs to counsel and exhibits tendered in court, and checking the file is complete in accordance with firm policy, for example emails printed where files are stored in hard copy
  • returning all original documents to the client or accounting for any other original documents on the file
  • archiving the file securely in accordance with firm policy, for example scanning the entire firm where an electronic copy is kept with appropriate safeguards such as backing up?

Where the retainer is terminated prematurely, whether by the client or the firm, in addition to the above how does your practice ensure the following issues are properly considered:

  • is there a potential professional liability?
  • has an appropriate notice been given to the client and/or court?
  • are any costs outstanding and is there a lien over the file?
  • should a copy of the file be retained?
  • is there a need for timely release of any files to another firm?
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