Rule 1.16A. Client File Retention


Colorado Court Rules
Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct

Client-lawyer Relationship

As amended through Rule Change 2018(4), effective March 15, 2018

(a) A lawyer in private practice shall retain a client's files respecting a matter unless:

(1) the lawyer delivers the file to the client or the client authorizes destruction of the file in a writing signed by the client and there are no pending or threatened legal proceedings known to the lawyer that relate to the matter; or

(2) the lawyer has given written notice to the client of the lawyer's intention to destroy the file on or after a date stated in the notice, which date shall not be less than thirty days after the date of the notice, and there are no pending or threatened legal proceedings known to the lawyer that relate to the matter.

(b) At any time following the expiration of a period of ten years following the termination of the representation in a matter, a lawyer may destroy a client's files respecting the matter without notice to the client, provided there are no pending or threatened legal proceedings known to the lawyer that relate to the matter and the lawyer has not agreed to the contrary.

(c) Notwithstanding paragraphs (a) and (b) above, a lawyer in a criminal matter shall retain a client's file for the following time periods:

(1) for the life of the client, if the matter resulted in a conviction and a sentence of death, life without parole, or an indeterminate sentence, including a sentence pursuant to the Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act of 1998, 18-1.31001 et seq., C.R.S.

(2) for eight years from the date of sentencing, if the matter resulted in a conviction for any other felony and the conviction and/or sentence was appealed;

(3) for five years from the date of sentencing, if the matter resulted in a conviction for any other felony and neither the conviction nor the sentence was appealed.

(d) A lawyer may satisfy the notice requirements of paragraph (a)(2) of this Rule by establishing a written file retention policy consistent with this Rule and by providing a notice of the file retention policy to the client in a fee agreement or a in writing delivered to the client not later than thirty days before destruction of the client's file or incorporated into a fee agreement.

(e) This Rule does not supersede or limit a lawyer's obligations to retain a client's file that are imposed by law, court order, or rules of a tribunal.

Cite as RPC 1.16A

History. Entire rule and comment added and effective February 10, 2011.



[1] Rule 1.16A is not intended to impose an obligation on a lawyer to preserve documents that the lawyer would not normally preserve, such as multiple copies or drafts of the same document. A client's files, within the meaning of Rule 1.16A, consist of those things, such as papers and electronic data, relating to a matter that the lawyer would usually maintain in the ordinary course of practice. A lawyer's obligations with respect to client "property" are distinct. Those obligations are addressed in Rules 1.15A and 1.16(d). "Property" generally refers to jewelry and other valuables entrusted to the lawyer by the client, as well as documents having intrinsic value or directly affecting valuable rights, such as securities, negotiable instruments, deeds, and wills.

[2] A lawyer may comply with Rule 1.16A by maintaining a client's files in, or converting the file to, electronic form, provided the lawyer is capable of producing a paper version if necessary. Rule 1.16A does not require multiple lawyers in the same law firm to retain duplicate client files or to retain a unitary file located in one place. "Law firm" is defined in Rule 1.0 to include lawyers employed in a legal services organization or the legal department of a corporation or other organization. Rule 5.1(a) addresses the responsibility of a partner in a law firm to "make reasonable efforts to ensure that the firm has in effect measures giving reasonable assurance that all lawyers in the firm conform to the Rules of Professional Conduct." Generally, lawyers employed by a private corporation or other entity as in-house counsel represent such corporation or entity as employees and the client's files are considered to be in the possession of the client and not the lawyer, such that Rule 1.16A would be inapplicable. Where lawyers are employed as public defenders or by a legal services organization or a government agency to represent third parties under circumstances where the third-party client's files are considered to be files and records of the organization or agency, the lawyer must take reasonable measures to ensure that the client's files are maintained by the organization or agency in accordance with this rule.

[3] Rule 1.16A does not supersede obligations imposed by other law, court order or rules of a tribunal. The maintenance of law firm financial and accounting records is governed exclusively by Rules 1.15A and 1.15D. Similarly, Rule 1.16A does not supersede specific retention requirements imposed by other rules, such as Rule 5.5(d)(2) (two-year retention of written notification to client of utilization of services of suspended or disbarred lawyer), Rule 4, Chapter 23.3 C.R.C.P. (six-year retention of contingent fee agreement and proof of mailing following completion or settlement of the case) and C.R.C.P. 121, 1-26(7) (two year retention of signed originals of e-filed documents). A document may be subject to more than one retention requirement, in which case the lawyer should retain the document for the longest applicable period. Rule 1.16A does not prohibit a lawyer from maintaining a client's files beyond the periods specified in the Rule.

[5] A lawyer may not destroy a client's file when the lawyer has knowledge of pending or threatened proceedings relating to the matter. The Rule does not affect a lawyer's obligations under Rule 1.16(d) with respect to the surrender of papers and property to which the client is entitled upon termination of the representation. A client's receipt of papers forwarded from time to time by the lawyer during the course of the representation does not alleviate the lawyer's obligations under Rule 1.16A.

[6] The destruction of a client's files under paragraph (a) of Rule 16A is subject to two sets of preconditions. First, the lawyer must have given written notice to the client of the lawyer's intention to destroy the files on or after a date certain, which date is not less than thirty days after the date the notice was given or the client has authorized the destruction of the files in a writing signed by the client. As provided in paragraph (d), the notice requirement in paragraph (a) can be satisfied by timely giving the client a written statement of the applicable file retention policy; for example, that policy could be contained in a written fee agreement. A lawyer should make reasonable efforts to locate a client for purposes of giving written notice when such notice was not provided during the representation. If the lawyer is unable to locate the client, written notice sent to the client's last known address is sufficient under paragraph (a) Rule 1.16A. Second, the lawyer may not destroy the files if the lawyer knows that there are legal proceedings pending or threatened that relate to the matter for which the lawyer created the files, if the file is subject to paragraph (c) of this Rule, or if the lawyer has agreed otherwise. If these preconditions are satisfied, the lawyer may destroy the files in a manner consistent with the lawyer's continuing obligation to maintain the confidentiality of information relating to the representation under Rules 1.6 and 1.9. Nothing in this Rule is intended to mandate that a lawyer destroy a file in the absence of a client's instruction to do so. Notwithstanding a client's instruction to destroy or return a file, a lawyer may retain a copy of the file or any document in the file.