In this article we'd like to point out what a legal archive is and what makes it different from any other digital storage platform. We hope to explain why a digital archive is important and what the general rules are for archiving legal documents.
What are legal documents?
There are a lot of definitions about legal documents but to keep this to the point, we focus on legal documents for companies and organizations;
There are multiple types of legal documents:
These are all documents concerning the general management of the organization. That's basically everything around tax, bookkeeping, VAT, ... A known document type for this is your tax return statement.
Other documents such as invoices, statements, pay slips, ... can be used as proof to this tax return and are therefore also seen as fiscal documents.
Fiscal documents (in Belgium) need to be legally archived for 7 years.
Invoices, credit notes and others
These are all documents that come out of "doing business" and purchasing or selling stuff. Depending on the purpose of the transaction, different rules concerning archiving durations apply. These durations go from 1 month up to 10 years.
The government advises to archive these documents for 10 years. Although 5 years is the average requirement.
A legal archive vs. digital storage
Having a legal archive is not the same as using simple digital storage to host legal documents. The difference lays in a couple of important points:
Provable and controllable access management
Provable and controllable change management
Guaranteed access and availability of the documents
Let's compare a simple file-share setup to our Diasonline application
Provable and controllable access management. Who can access what information? Who has seen my information
Provable and controllable change management. What has been changed and by who?
Guaranteed access and availability of the documents.
Possible if set up correctly.
Access management allows you to control which users can access what information. Can they see it, can they update it ...? It also allows to get a trace of all actions taken with the documents. Who has read this document, what has been updated and by who? Or maybe, and that is often the case with legal documents, you don't want anybody to change anything at all.
By default, a legal archive should not be able to make any changes to the original file. All actions and traces should be available to prove the authenticity of the document. Only a dedicated document management system can offer that kind of functionality. Original files can never be changed, Newer versions can exist that contain certain changes but the original should always be available. That certainty is covered by good version management.
Guaranteed access and availability
This is the sum of security, high availability, backups and a lot of monitoring. Only a dedicated partner can offer you that kind of support for your documents. We at Diasbytes give very high value to these points. We are responsible for hosting our customers data and we do not take that responsibility lightly.
Multi angle search
This is not a requirement for digital archives but it's a huge advantage compared to simple file management or even systems like Dropbox or SharePoint. A proper document management system like Diasonline gives you the ability to search and find information from different angles. One user will search for documents of type invoices and the other will look for related documents of a specific project. The result should be the same and in the required format.
To wrap this up, having a legal archive is a matter of choosing the right partner and the right tools. Diasonline offers everything you need to store your documents in a legally accepted way. We can even narrow hosting requirements to specific countries for those customer that require border bound storage.