Can I destroy client files after 7 years?
Not without the clients’ consent. Many of the papers on the file will belong to the client and you may not destroy their property without their permission. For a further discussion, and suggestions for obtaining consent, read the Proctor article Destroying client files? Not without proper instructions!
This article deals with the relevant provisions of the Solicitors Rule 2007 which has been replaced by the Australian Solicitors Conduct Rules 2012 ('ASCR') from 1 June 2012.
The ASCR now states in rule 14.2:
A solicitor or solicitor’s law practice may destroy client documents after a period of 7 years has elapsed since the completion or termination of the engagement, except where there are client instructions or legislation to the contrary.
However, as explained in the Proctor article, you have common law duties to the client as bailee of the client’s documents and as such you may never destroy those documents without the client’s consent.
It needs to be remembered that the ASCR, like the Solicitors Rule before them, are not a complete code of conduct for solicitors, and that where the common law imposes a higher standard of conduct on you, you must comply with the common law standard.
The Legal Profession Act and Legal Profession Regulations provisions referred to in the Proctor article have not changed.
In light of the above, the guidance provided in the Proctor article is still valid.
As for which documents on the file belong to the client see Mine or yours? Who owns what on a client file? by Stafford Shepherd, Proctor November 2011 pp.42-43.