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Creating an Email Retention Policy

Recently, two different clients have asked me to help them create an email retention policy.  In that my clients are law firms and law departments, they have been able to write the specific language themselves.  My assistance has been in helping them determine what the policy needs to include and how to formulate the actual policy.  Here are some of the guidelines we have come up with.

What needs to be retained and for how long?  Most firms consider an email retention policy because there is too much email clogging up their server.  Therefore, their real goal in creating an email “retention” policy is to get rid of what they don’t need and keep what they do.  What you have to keep depends on ethical obligations, client requests and many other factors.  Therefore, the first thing your policy should do is define exactly what needs to be retained.  List the types of emails that need to be retained and the reason that you are retaining them.

Determine how you will index and file the retained emails.  Saving emails in a disorganized fashion defeats the purpose of an email retention policy because it becomes impossible to find them when you really need them.  How do you organize your emails?  The obvious answer is a document management and/or practice management system.  Document management systems like Worldox offer features to categorize, profile and index emails.  The same is true for practice management systems like Time Matters.  Thus, the second step is to determine how you will save the emails so that they can be found and retrieved when necessary.  Your policy should include the method required to save emails, including any specific information regarding profiling and indexing.

What happens to the rest?  The last big question you have to ask is what happens to the emails that do not have to be retained and, assuming they are going to be purged, when they will be deleted.  It is not hard to come up with a policy here but it can be very hard to enforce it.  If your users are following the previous two guidelines, any emails left unfiled beyond a certain number of days are the ones that can be deleted.  However, if they are not following them, some emails requiring retention will be mixed in with the emails to be purged.  The answer?  Training and policy enforcement.  Your users have to be thoroughly trained regarding the importance of saving emails and how to do so.  For your part, some mechanism must be in place to verify that they are doing so.

Once again, these guidelines do not attempt to suggest the actual language of your email retention policy.  They are intended to help you formulate the language in your policy.

Blawger Survivor Update.  Quite a few survivors left.  Today, I will send you over to The Nutmeg Lawyer, where Adrian Baron has a post called Twits Tweeting on Twitter.  The post describes some “interesting” posts by right-wing nutjobs.  I probably come from the other side of the political fence and could find just as many posts by left-wing moonbats.  I think the interesting thing is how the Internet has become a place where all of the extremists finally have a place to hang out and exchange conspiracy theories.  Perhaps the ability to put just about anything on the Internet, and find people who believe it, is one of the reasons our country has become more divided along partisan lines than at any other at any time I can remember.

9:30 PM.  Looks like I survived one more day.

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