On a slow day recently I blew the dust off some files and looked in cabinet drawers that had not seen the light of day for many a year. When we started this firm I had one file for administration; now I have cabinets full of papers. So this was, finally, my chance to sort out those folders which pile up year on year; those files where all the dross of legal professional life end up. The flotsam and jetsam of being a solicitor.
The advantage of having any clean-out is you find things that you were not looking for. This is the law of serendipity or looking for a sixpence and finding a pound note (to be totally anachronistic). You are looking for the last rates bill and find those vital documents papers. The documents somehow knew you were looking for them but they'd got themselves lost.
It is difficult to know how long to keep things. Files about practising certificate renewals, indemnity insurance all going back years, office insurance, rates, and job applications.
It is not that I am attached to these, it is just that there is always a worry that something will come up. There are also miscellaneous documents: letters about a missing will, letters from people in prison claiming to have been defamed. Some of these letters have attachments like photos of the potential client with a nurse, copied court forms they have completed in microscopic handwriting - probably written in green ink.
There are imaginary cases, real but too trivial cases and real problems that we cannot deal with for lack of experience or knowledge. These people protest that I was not interested or not willing to help them. No, I was not, but you cannot say that to them. You have to say something soothing. I found some old property files, including an auction catalogue for property we rented once. The guide price for the freehold five years ago would now run a small country for a few years.
The property is still there and empty. There are piles of CVs sent in and the identikit replies we sent saying we wish them well in their careers and will keep their CVs on file. And so I did. I wonder what happened to those bright graduates.
All these will be a thing of past. Most junk mail is now junk mail of the electronic kind. Email accounts get clogged up with loads of social media invitations to join various people who think they are marketing geniuses or experts.
The pleasant thing is finding files that relate to various crises of high street life. The countless audits of different hues from different agencies. It is nice to find some old file that at the time was a major headache, but now we can bin it because it is over. But somehow I cannot bear to part with them and don’t throw them away this time. Next time I may.
David Pickup is a partner in Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott