Wednesday, 8 February 2012

How Long Should I Keep My Records?

The proliferation of electronic records imposes a daunting task on organizations to effectively manage their records retention schedules. The challenge is how to strike a balance between legal and regulatory requirements and a more manageable retention schedule by consolidating similar or related record series into a fewer number of retention categories. A possible solution to this vexing problem is what is referred to as the “Big Bucket Theory” articulated by Susan Cisco: “Big Buckets for Simplifying Record Retention Schedules.” The premise of the theory is that aggregating record types into fewer retention buckets may result in a more simplified and accurate classification scheme.  Improved classification will in turn promote more efficient disposition, thereby reducing the propensity to retain records too long. From a legal perspective, a streamlined retention schedule may reduce the risks associated with having to potentially incur onerous document production costs in the event of a discovery requests.

On the other hand, the “Big Bucket Theory” requires application of longer retention periods to records that constitute a larger bucket. This may result in having to retain records for longer periods than it may be otherwise required and in increased risk of having to produce documents pursuant to litigation hold. Some argue that “the disadvantage in more complex environments is that this type of approach can result in the unnecessary retention of large amounts of records, as retention “big buckets” default to the longest retention requirement of their components.”

The potential application and value of the “Big Bucket Theory” depends on a number of factors.   Susan Cisco cautions that “In the final analysis, organizations need to weigh the odds of end users properly classifying content against risks of potentially retaining content longer than necessary. These risks are unique to each organization and are based on its history of litigation and regulatory scrutiny, its culture for risk tolerance, and its resourcing constraints.”

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