Denver Bar Association
November 2003
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Another Reason to Celebrate Arbor Day

by Cliff Eley

You accumulate a lot of junk practicing law for 20 years. Some of this stuff comes in handy and some doesn’t.

Old volumes of Martindale Hubbell can make you look quite learned to the untrained eye. Local television news stations use these all the time when they talk to a "legal expert." You don’t need to know a darn thing about Kobe, but if you have a set of Martindale Hubbells backing you up, anything you say will be taken as gospel.

Grateful clients may give you pen and pencil sets or objects of "art" in appreciation for your services. You don’t want to throw this stuff away, but your wife won’t let you bring it home, so you keep it around as a constant reminder of how long you’ve been fighting in the trenches.

One thing I’ve accumulated, which has served no useful purpose but which I am loath to dispose of, is old case files. I can’t throw them away because I know that as soon as I do, some client I can’t remember will want something out of them, or better yet, want to sue me. I don’t want to put them in a storage unit, because I’ll never find anything there anyway. That’s like throwing them in the garbage but paying rent to the dump.

Several years ago, my office started using one of those professional storage companies, which for purposes of this article I’ll call "Files R Us." These companies pick up your file and store it where it can be easily retrieved, except when they can’t find it. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but then, so did practicing law. The downside of this is that there is a charge for taking your file, a charge for storing your file, and a charge for bringing it back when you need it. The other downside is even when your files are old enough to dispose, you would still have to pay to get it back so you can throw it away.

Recently, we came up with a plan to minimize our storage costs and still have files easily accessible. My office recently decided to stop paying storage costs and start scanning old files onto CD-ROMs. We give the old files to the client, or, if they don’t want them, we shred the files and throw a small tickertape parade in the client’s honor. 

What a great idea! We’ll really save money now! Then we discovered just how expensive it is to get all your files back from Files R Us. The helpful customer service representative explained that there are several charges involved in withdrawing all your files.

1. Retrieval charge. It sounds reasonable that they have to retrieve your files.

2. Handling charge. Wait a minute, how is this different from retrieval? I figured they couldn’t retrieve a file without handling it. Isn’t that like a lesser-included offense?

3. Transporting charges. So they were going to retrieve the file and handle it, but if I want it to actually leave the warehouse, that’s extra?

4. Permanent withdrawal fee. As the helpful customer service rep said, "This is where we get ya." There actually is a fee for them not having to do anything with your files anymore. We know how time consuming that can be. Heck, if I could charge for not doing anything with my clients’ files I’d be a rich man. Not doing anything with a client’s file is something at which I am particularly adept. The helpful customer service rep was refreshingly honest. "This is an extra charge, because we know we aren’t going to be able to bill you anymore." I wished I could do that with my clients when . . . well, never mind.

The more files you store, the more it costs and it can easily be several thousand dollars to get loose of these guys.  To avoid the costs of withdrawing your files, you can just keep paying every month in perpetuity. It’s kind of like a mortgage, except you don’t get equity, you can’t live in the box and your files will never go condo.

Even after you retire you’ll have to keep paying on these files until the day you die. Then, it’s your children’s job to dispose of the files. How can you make sure they’ll do it? Tell them your last will and testament is in a box at "Files R Us."

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