Saving Email for Record Retention

In a whitepaper on file management and retention NC Lawyer’s Mutual writes: “to maintain all relevant information in one place, export the case-related email.
If it is sitting in MS Outlook, the email is separated from the rest of the client file. Export it from Outlook, and save it with the rest of the electronic files”. Email communication, as well as the documents and their versions attached to the email, are part of the client record and thus should be saved with the client file with retention rules applied. How can this be accomplished? And, what if you don’t use MS Outlook?

If you are in a firm that uses Microsoft Outlook an IT administrator can create group folders in Outlook so that the users can drag/drop emails to the client folder and the firm can administer the email records. In firms that have a document management or practice management system lawyers can usually save an email directly to the client file. Without involvement from an IT department or a DMS/PMS, MS Outlook users can also save individual emails as .msg or .html files by using the “File – Save As” feature and save it in the appropriate folder in the file/folder structure on the network or cloud storage.  For users with the full version of Adobe Acrobat (or similar software) use the  ‘convert to PDF’ or ‘save as PDF’ functionality so that you can save the emails to a PDF format and into the client folder.

But, what about the email attachments? You can avoid attachment issues by sending internal email recipients a file path instead of an attachment. The file path will take the recipient directly to the document on the server or cloud service without creating a new version. This helps with version control AND helps ensure that the document location and file name conform to the firm’s naming standards.  From outside the firm, when you receive a document attached to an email make it a habit of “right” (alternate) clicking on the document and choosing “save as” to save it with the appropriate name and folder right away. A simple add-on for MS Outlook called EZ Detach  from TechHit automates the process of saving and categorizing attachments. The product starts at $36 per user per year.

Another method of dealing with email  is to keep it in a folder structure that mimics the network folder structure. If your firm uses Microsoft Outlook and Adobe Acrobat DC Pro you can then save the entire folder at close of the matter (watch this tutorial video starting at 49:57).  Each email in the folder will be converted to PDF, and can be sorted, searched, and extracted as needed. The attachments to the emails are stored within this PDF repository as well, though they are not converted to PDF . Nuance PDF Converter Pro (start the video at 24:55) also provides this option with MS Outlook, and you can also convert the attachments as PDF as well.

If your firm uses web-based email, such as Gmail in G-suite, there are extensions like cloudHQ that can help you save multiple emails as PDF.  For other web-based email accounts like Yahoo or Outlook.com you can download the emails though the POP protocol to a free product like Thunderbird (works with all operating systems) and convert folders to PDF with an add-on like MBox. Here is a video demonstrating how to use Thunderbird to convert email to PDFs.

Many case/practice management and document management systems allow you to save client emails to the matter. However, check with your provider to see what format the file is stored in and what type of software/application is required to open and read the file into the future.  Because PDF is a more universal and long term file type for a multi-year retention consider PDF for archives and long term email storage.

Email is an important part of the client file. Properly followed retention policies will  reduce risk and simplify managing files. Be sure to investigate how to make sure client communication is stored with the record to make retention and destruction protocols easier to follow.