February 4, 2014
In the last post of this series, I wrote about the importance of maintaining comprehensive records for your law firm, specifically focused on financial recordkeeping.
This post will concentrate on the non-financial side of record maintenance, which, although sounds less important than keeping track of your law firm finances, is actually just as imperative.
What do I mean by “non-financial recordkeeping?” This refers to notes about your communications, court appearances (and other appearances on behalf of a client), and client meetings; in addition, this means records about documents and correspondences that you’ve both sent and received.
First up is communications records. “Communications” is a very broad term, so here’s a bit more detail about what I’m talking about: phone calls, emails, and text messages exchanges with clients, opposing parties, and any other party that you may be in contact with on behalf of your client.
And the “records” that you maintain about these communications should include the time and date that they occurred, their duration, a summary of what was discussed, and any follow-up required on your part.
I’ve already discussed one of the primary reasons for doing this – billing – in the previous post; but there are notable others.
Not least among these reasons is keeping your calendar straight. If you, for some reason, forget to mark a deadline, court appearance, or other appointment on your calendar, you’ll always have your notes to look back on as a reminder. Another vitally important reason to keep detailed logs of your communications is if a dispute ever arises over the content of these communications. True, your handwritten notes may not be irrefutable evidence, but they will still help.
Finally, your communications records will also help greatly in your actual practice of law, since you’ll be logging important factual information and your own analyses – both of communications with your clients and opposing counsel.
Along the same lines as keeping records of your communications is logging records of documents sent and received. This is primarily important in case a dispute arises as to whether and/or when a specific document was sent or received, but you’ll find this information will present its usefulness in other ways.
So far, we’ve covered communications and other correspondences that have been sent or received remotely; but just as important is taking notes of records of in-person events.
One of the most essential such event to take copious notes is in client meetings. Jot down not only what the client says, but how he or she is acting, and the emotions that are accompanying his or her words. Just as with remote communication records, comprehensive note-taking during client meetings will help immensely in building your body of factual information. However, it also helps with your client relations in that note-taking indicates that you are being attentive to what your client is saying, and prevents and possible strain on the attorney-client relationship that may arise from having to ask a client for a piece of information that they gave during the meeting but that you failed to record.
Finally, you also want to take abundant notes during court appearances. The judge may say something that needs to be in an order that you may be responsible for later drafting, and the last thing that you want to do is call the judge’s clerk to ask him or her to repeat what the judge said in court. Of course, taking notes in court is just common sense if you want to have a complete collection of factual information for your case.
Really, the general rule with recordkeeping in a law practice is that it’s difficult to take too many notes. Obviously, you shouldn’t be repetitive, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll later look back on notes you’ve taken with regret at taking them.