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RPC 133

July 17, 1992

Recycling Office Waste Paper

 

Opinion rules that a law firm may make its waste paper available for recycling.

 

Inquiry #1:

 

What kind of guarantees must be obtained from a recycling company before a law office may give the company its waste paper products?

 

Opinion #1:

 

A lawyer has a professional obligation under Rule 4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct to protect confidential information in his or her possession from unauthorized disclosure. This obligation extends to the handling of waste paper products embodying confidential information generated in the ordinary course of legal business. However, this professional obligation does not generally compel any particular mode of trash handling or disposal. In particular, there is no general requirement that waste paper which may evidence client confidences be shredded. It is sufficient in most cases for the responsible attorney to ascertain that those persons or entities responsible for the disposal of waste paper employ procedures which effectively minimize the risk that confidential information might be disclosed. The responsible attorney should take particular care to ensure that custodial personnel under his or her direct supervision are conscious of the fact that confidential information may be present in waste paper products and are aware that the attorney's professional obligations require that there be no breach of confidentiality in regard to such information. So long as the attorney takes the precautions noted above, there is no reason why his or her law firm's waste paper products could not be made available for recycling.

 

Inquiry #2:

 

Do any of a law firm's waste paper products need to be shredded to comport with ethical considerations of client confidentiality?

 

Opinion #2:

 

A law firm will occasionally generate waste paper embodying confidential information which is so sensitive that the attorney's professional obligations under Rule 4 can only be satisfied by the paper's retention or its destruction. Under such circumstances shredding the waste paper would be appropriate.

 

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