The Perfect Filing Cabinet is a Trash Can

Ernest Svenson (a/k/a Ernie the Attorney) has a great post at PDF For Lawyers about the necessity of keeping paper documents after they have been scanned.

Ernie explains:

Once people realize the benefits of scanning and decide to do it they usually have one last question: how long should I keep the paper after I scan it? My advice is always to get rid of the paper as soon as possible. A friend of mine who long ago found Nirvana in being completely paperless says he thinks it should be illegal to sell scanners without a paper-shredder attached.

Still, people wonder about getting rid of paper and believe there are special rules that require them to keep certain papers. Which ones? They’re not sure so they tend to keep most of them—just to be sure they comply with that mysterious bureaucratic edict.

He then notes that he recently read a post that advised that all tax related documents must be kept in paper form. Ernie objected to that strenuously:

Oh brother! Here we go again. The comments to this post were festooned with supporting opinions on how vital it is to keep paper receipts.

Instinctively, I knew this was ludicrous. Both from a practical standpoint, as well as a legal one.

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But what about the IRS? Isn’t the Unclutterer article right about the IRS requiring you to keep paper copies of receipts and supporting documentation related to your tax returns? No, the IRS doesn’t require paper copies. And if you don’t believe me then read IRS Rev Proc. 97-22, which specifically allows electronic storage systems if they meet basic requirements of reliability.

You need to check out the entire post. Also, make sure that you read the comments as well for a great discussion of the practical applications of Ernie’s suggestions.

I admit that I have not quite gotten to the point where I toss the paper when it is scanned. However, I have managed to rid myself of a bunch of paper. Further, I am finding it more and more frequent that my physical file on a matter is nonexistent simply because all communications and work on the file have happened entirely electronically.