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Checklist: What to do when a client requests a file

6th July, 2017

On 21 March 2017 the Law Society released guidance entitled, ‘Who owns the file?’. The guidance focuses on assisting firms to identify which documents in a client file belong to them and which documents belong to the client.

The issue of what documents belong to who is a question that is asked frequently among many law firms. The guidance helpfully collates all previously issued guidance across a number of practice notes.

As a result of the recent guidance we have produced a concise checklist summarising the points made by the Law Society. Our intention is that this can be used as a starting point for those firms and solicitors who have received a request from a client for a copy of their file.

When dealing with a request it is important to remember that although the checklist is a good starting point, each request needs to be carefully considered because whether a document belongs to the client depends upon the circumstances. If you are in doubt, please contact our Professional Practices Department for specialist advice.

Checklist: What to do when a client requests a file

  • Law Society published guidance.
  • Two categories of documents:
    – Where you are acting as a professional advisor; ownership will depend on the purpose of the retainer and whether the production of a document was stipulated in the retainer.
    – Where you are acting as an agent of the client; documents will normally belong to the client.
  • Documents belonging to client:
    – Original documents sent to the firm by the client;
    – Documents sent to or received by the firm as agents for the client i.e. correspondence with counsel;
    – Final version of documents which go to the object of the retainer;
    – Final versions of documents prepared by a third party whom was paid by the client.
  •  Documents belonging to the firm;
    – Documents prepared for the firm’s own benefit i.e. telephone note confirming advice provided to client;
    – Draft or working documents;
    – Internal correspondences;
    – Correspondence from the client to the firm;
    – Accounting records i.e. disbursement vouchers.
  • No specific guidance on attendance notes:
    – If prepared for firm’s benefit, and not charged to client, usually belong to the firm;
    – Consider if for example production of note agreed with client i.e. note of meeting with counsel. Would usually belong to client.
  •  Remember can exercise lien over papers if fees are unpaid.
  • Check firm’s terms and conditions. Above guidance can be overruled by these.
  • Careful consideration is needed if you have more than one client.

Disclaimer: The material within this checklist does not necessarily stand on its own and is not intended to be relied upon as advice in any specific situation. Aaron & Partners LLP provide no warranty or assurance in providing the checklist and any material which is not intended to constitute a definitive or complete statement of the law as it may apply to an individual situation. To the fullest extent permitted by law Aaron & Partners LLP will not be liable for breach of contract, negligence or otherwise for any loss or damage (whether direct, indirect or consequential) occasioned to any person acting or omitting to act or refraining from acting upon the checklist material. Nothing in this paragraph shall be deemed to exclude or limit Aaron & Partners LLP’s liability for death or personal injury caused by negligence or for fraud or for fraudulent misrepresentation. You may not assign this agreement without our consent in writing. This agreement is not intended to benefit anyone other than the parties to it and, in particular, no term of this agreement shall be enforceable under the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999 by a third party. Loss and damage as referred to above shall be deemed to include, but is not limited to, any loss of profits or anticipated profits, damage to reputation or goodwill, loss of business or anticipated business, damages, costs, expenses incurred or payable to any third party (in all cases whether direct, indirect or consequential) or any other direct, indirect or consequential loss or damage.

Paul Bennett

Partner in Professional Practices and Employment Law
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01743 453685

Mark Briegal

Partner in Professional Practices and Corporate & Commercial
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 01244 405563

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