Best Practices for Disposing of Legal Documents

Legal professional examines a stack of legal documentsLegal documents can be very costly. Not only to produce, but also if they’re discarded incorrectly. Any sensitive legal information that is retrieved by the wrong person could land your practice in hot water with government fines, legal battles, and a destroyed reputation. The simple act of discarding legal documents into the trash or recycle bin can leave your firm accountable and non-compliant with data privacy laws.

How Can Legal Documents Be Stolen?

It should be standard practice to handle legal documents securely from the time they are generated until they are disposed of, or “cradle to grave.” You are responsible for the security of the information on these documents throughout their lifecycle, including what happens to them after they are discarded.

Ask yourself these two critical questions about your legal documents:

  1. Where are the documents kept during their active lifetime? Are they protected from unauthorized access?
  2. What happens to them after they are discarded? Is there a possibility they could be seen or taken by someone during transport, at the recycling depot, or in the landfill?

The private information contained in legal files must stay secure at all times, or you risk responsibility for a data breach. Even if you shred them on site using an office shredder and deposit them in your dumpster, they aren’t safe. It is generally considered legal for anyone to search and take items from trash bins and dumpsters left in public areas. Even when it is considered illegal, identity thieves have no compunction about dumpster diving to get what they want.

How Can I Safeguard Discarded Legal Documents?

Once you are finished with your confidential legal documents, your responsibility for their privacy continues. The chain of custody for those documents must end with secure destruction. For that, law firms and practices everywhere prefer NAID AAA Certified shredding.

Here is what a secure chain of custody for your documents looks like:

  1. Secure: Always keep legal files and loose documents under lock and key. If you are actively using a file, never leave it out on your desk or in an unsecure area unaccompanied where unauthorized individuals could see or gain access to them. Before walking away and when finished with a file or document, place it in a locked desk drawer, file cabinet, or file box in a secure area.
  2. Contain: When a file reaches its final disposition date or a document is no longer needed, discard it in a locking shred collection container. Work with a local, reputable shredding company that will supply these as part of their scheduled shredding service. They come in sizes and styles that fit your office and shredding needs.
  3. Shred: Adopt a “shred everything” policy to make information security easy. Rather than trying to decide what to shred and what to recycle, you simply drop everything into the shred collection container; no need to remove folders, paperclips, or sticky notes. If you work with a shredding company that recycles their shredded material, you don’t have to compromise. You get security and environmental protection all in one.
  4. Protect: Choose a NAID AAA Certified shredding company to ensure that your documents will be handled within a secure chain of custody and shredded to the highest security standards in the industry. Ask for a Certificate of Destruction for your records in case an auditor requests proof of your compliance with data privacy laws. You don’t get that when you shred in house.

Now that you know the best practices, you have all the information you need to protect your confidential legal documents throughout their lifecycle and securely dispose of them when the time comes.

Apex Shredding provides NAID AAA Certified shredding services to law firms throughout Northern Colorado. Our background-screened and trained shredding professionals are ready to answer your questions or book shredding service for you today. Just give us a call at 907-532-5007 or complete the form on this page.

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