The purpose of the generic file opening checklist is to
the licensee to gather, record, and identify the location of key file
the licensee to conduct important file management tasks
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
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.
How to use the File Opening Checklist
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
actions or steps required to preserve or advance the client’s substantive
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.
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.
Lawyers' Rules: Chapter 3 Relationship to Clients, Competence, 3.1-1(d), 3.1-2; Fees and
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.
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 –
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.
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.
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.
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)
Financial Transactions and Records, Part V Record Keeping Requirements,
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.
File Opening Checklist