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File Opening Checklist


The purpose of the generic file opening checklist is to

  • assist the licensee to gather, record, and identify the location of key file information
  • prompt the licensee to conduct important file management tasks
  • encourage the use of file management systems to support the practice
  • allow for easy retrieval of key file information, especially important for implementing a contingency plan in the event the primary lawyer or paralegal is absent for any reason.

The File Opening Checklist is not a New Client Matter Form. The document only addresses information to feed into office management systems. It is not intended to deal with the substantive facts and issues relating to the client matter. As a practice management resource the File Opening Checklist may stand alone or be incorporated into the firm’s New Client Matter Form. It can be stapled onto the inside of the client file for ease of reference. The File Opening Checklist acts as a checklist to help lawyers and paralegals manage risk. Relevant references to the Rules of Professional Conduct (Lawyers' Rules) and Paralegal Rules of Conduct (Paralegal Rules) have also been noted. 

Client Name and Client File Identifier

The name of the client and file identifier should be clearly indicated on the document. The file identifier is usually a file number assigned to the file in accordance with the firm’s file opening system. When the file is opened, the matter is entered into the firm’s accounting and file opening system and confirmed on the File Opening Checklist.

Crucial Date in the Matter

The “crucial date” in the file is any important date or deadline that affects the client’s substantive rights in the matter. Examples include limitation dates in litigation and requisition dates in real estate matters. When a file is opened the licensed professional, the lawyer or paralegal - not office staff – determines

a)            the actions or steps required to preserve or advance the client’s substantive rights/interests, and

b)            the date by which those actions must be taken.

The licensee or staff inputs the information into the firm bring forward/tickler system and confirms this in the File Opening Checklist. Once action has been taken to meet the deadline or if action has already been taken at the time the file is opened (a statement of claim has been issued or requisitions have been delivered), a notation is made on the checklist. A successor licensee reviewing the file is able to quickly and easily ascertain whether action must be taken to protect or advance substantive rights – and by what date. Where no crucial deadline is applicable in the matter - for example, where only advice is sought in a non-litigious matter - the licensee confirms this on the File Opening Checklist with an explanation.

Client(s), Matter, and Opposing Party - Basic Information

The File Opening Checklist records the parties’ contact and matter information with any special instructions regarding client communications. Where the client is an institution, the name of the instructing individual is recorded. The names of opposing parties and contact information for their legal representatives as well as a brief description of the matter are recorded for ease of reference.

Cross-Reference Location of File Contents or Client Property

Lawyers' Rules: Chapter 3 Relationship to Clients, Preservation of Client’s Property, 3.5 

Paralegal Rules: Rule 3 Duty to Clients, Client Property, 3.07

To ensure efficient retrieval of file contents or information, the File Opening Checklist records the location of electronic and paper documents, as well as any client property in the licensee’s possession that relates to the matter.

File Management Systems/Requirements

This section of the File Opening Checklist presupposes that the licensee has in place office systems or procedures to address mandatory obligations (under rules of conduct and by-laws) that arise or are best managed at the file opening stage.

1.            Bring Forward/Tickler Systems

Lawyers' Rules: Chapter 3 Relationship to Clients, Competence, 3.1-1(e); 3.1-2

Paralegal Rules: Rule 3 Duty to Clients, Competence, 3.01(1); 3.01(4)(g)

Licensees are required to meet important deadlines and to perform all functions in a timely and cost effective manner in accordance with their duty of competence. The File Opening Checklist reminds the lawyer or paralegal to use a bring forward/tickler system right from the start - when the client file is opened. The checklist prompts the licensee record the first bring forward date into the system.

2.            Conflicts Checking Systems

Lawyers' Rules: Chapter 3 Relationship to Clients, Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest, 3.4

Paralegal Rules: Rule 3 Duty to Clients, Conflicts of Interest – General, 3.04

Licensees are required check for and properly manage conflicts of interest. The document serves as a reminder that, although staff may conduct the initial search, it is the lawyer or paralegal who must review and assess the results. The licensee determines whether all appropriate names (and spellings) have been searched, whether there is a conflict of interest, and if so, what steps must be taken to manage the conflict. The File Opening Checklist confirms the date the conflicts search was assessed, by whom, and gives the location of search documents. A successor licensee can easily determine when the initial search was made, and locate the conflicts search documents for review if required.

3.            Confirming Retainer Terms

Lawyers' Rules: Chapter 3 Relationship to Clients, Competence, 3.1-1(d), 3.1-2; Fees and Disbursements, 3.6-1

Paralegal Rules: Rule 3 Duty to Clients, Competence, 3.01(1); 3.01 (4)(e); Rule 5 Fees and Retainers, Reasonable Fees and Disbursements, 5.01(1)

Professional conduct rules mandate that licensees communicate with the client at all relevant stages of the matter in a timely and effective manner. In particular, fees charged must be disclosed in a timely fashion. It is up to the licensee to ensure that the client understands and agrees to what legal services the client can expect, when those services will be delivered, and at what cost. The File Opening Checklist prompts the licensee to confirm the client’s understanding and agreement in writing - either by retainer agreement signed by the client or letter sent to the client confirming the terms of engagement.

4.            Joint Retainers

Lawyers' Rules: Chapter 1 Citation and Interpretation, Definitions, 1.1-1 “consent”; Chapter 3 Relationship to Clients, Avoidance of Conflicts of Interest, 3.4-5 – 3.4-7

Paralegal Rules: Rule 1 Citation and Interpretation, Definitions, 1.02 “consent”; Rule 3 Duty to Clients, Conflicts of Interest – General, 3.04(7)-(9)

If the matter requires the licensee to act for more than one client in that matter, then the licensee must comply with the joint retainer rule. The rule includes a provision that all joint clients must consent to the joint retainer and that consents must be reduced to writing. The File opening checklist reminds licensees to comply with this provision by requiring confirmation that all consent documents are in the file.

5.            Client Identification

By-law 7.1 Operational Obligations and Responsibilities, Part III, Client Identification and Verification s. 22(1)(a)

Licensees are required to comply with client identification provisions whenever they are retained to provide legal services. There are exceptions. The File Opening Checklist requires the licensee to record the location of the client identification record or, where an exception applies, the location of the memo confirming the reasons for the exception.

6.            Client Verification

By-law 7.1 Operational Obligations and Responsibilities, Part III, Client Identification and Verification s. 22(1)(b)

In general, a licensee must comply with client verification requirements (in addition to the client identification provisions) whenever the licensee deals with funds on behalf of a client. The File Opening Checklist prompts the lawyer or paralegal to determine whether client verification is required. Where verification is necessary, the lawyer or paralegal is reminded to take steps to comply or, where an exemption applies, to confirm the reasons for the exemption. The location of client verification documentation or memo explaining the exemption is recorded on the checklist.

7.            Proper Use of Trust Account

Lawyers' Rules: Chapter 3 Relationship to Clients, Quality of Service, 3.2-7.2, 3.2-7.3

Paralegal Rules: Rule 3 Duty to Clients, Advising Clients 3.02(5)-(6)

By-law 9 Financial Transactions and Records, Part V Record Keeping Requirements, s.18(1).

Licensees must identify and record the purpose for any money received. Licensees are only permitted to use their trust accounts for the provision of legal services. The File Opening Checklist reminds the lawyer and paralegal to consider and record in their books and records the purpose of any funds received, in trust, on behalf of a client.

Terms or Concepts Explained