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Destroying Documents - What are your thoughts?

As either an arbitrator or mediator, what best practices do you adopt in destroying documents - both hard copy and electronic - that you receive from the parties in the course of your appointment after the matter is closed? How long do you keep the documents and what steps do you take to ensure that the parties' expectations of confidentiality are maintained?

Please provide your thoughts/comments below.

Comments (4)

As a mediator I destroy ( shred) documents submitted once I know that a settlement agreement has been signed. As an arbitrator I keep the documents for three years after an award. If the parties settle the arbitration at any point, then I will notify the parties that I am shredding the documents.

I have a locked dedicated document storage closet in my home, and I follow the jurisdiction's rules for document retention. After the expiration of the minimum timeline, in my case- 6 yrs, the documents are shredded by a vendor. However, since 2011 most documents were transmitted and are stored electronically on a secure server, which is backed-up on an external drive, which means retention is longer.

Still, inasmuch as I rarely have direct communication with parties, I expect the arbitration tribunals I serve would assume primary responsibility for document retention.

First, I have trained my mind, as to my arbitrator/mediator practice to have moved from a steel trap to a titanium sieve. Mediation documents get shredded or deleted a week following what I believe is the last session -- giving parties a chance to get back to me if there is a problem with any agreement reached. Arbitration documents get shredded or deleted (thumb drives or discs wiped) once the timeframe, under applicable institution's rules, for requests for reconsideration or explanation (clarifications) have expired. For tax purposes, I do retain billing documents.

Judge Gerald Harris:

In a completed arbitration I distinguish between those documents which have been received in evidence and those that have not been (ie. briefs, cases and materials in binders not offered or marked as exhibits). As to exhibits received in evidence, I keep them in a metal file cabinet for, at least, the jurisdictionally prescribed timeframe and sometimes longer against the possibility that a reviewing court may remand for further information, rulings or reconsideration. When it is time for disposal I erase electronic files and either shred paper records or offer the party submitting the file to reclaim it.

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