Updated: Oct 6, 2020
"Here, I have it in writing." Few sentences are more pleasing to your attorney's ear. Not that your veracity is absolutely dependent upon verification, but it just makes our work so much easier if we can eliminate the variable of opposing party claiming he or she does not remember or denying the promise, claim or threat alleged.
To make sure you are properly maintaining documentation of your interactions with potential opposing parties, remember these two "P"s and two "D"s (and technically one "N").
PRINT: Print any email, picture or other electronic document (small enough to maintain a hard copy) that could potentially be important in negotiations, arbitration or litigation. Keep these documents in an area you control (in a work setting, be mindful of any clause in your employment contract about bringing work materials off campus). Don't trust that the electronic copy will be there when needed. Computers crash, documents get deleted from the cloud remotely, (soon to be) former employees get their key fobs deactivated and find their work laptop on the other side of a locked door.
PRESERVE: Preserve all potentially important documents. Keep them in a safe place, behind lock and key if possible. You may wish to create cover pages denoting when, where, and by whom each document was created. For handwritten notes, I like to outline the margins with a highlighter and write the phrase "this area is blank" to discourage any future wonder if more prose was added after the document was created. It's not a bad idea to scan and print your handwritten notes to leverage the electronic copy's metadata for authentication of creation date (at minimum, opposing party cannot credibly claim the notes were written after the date they were scanned). Likewise, in typed documents, intentionally blank pages should be labeled as such, and include a cover sheet explaining the rationale behind any redactions. Create read-only PDFs of final versions. If you have already retained an attorney, it could make sense to give your attorney a copy of these documents as soon as they become available.
DATES (and NAMES): Include dates and names with all of your documentumentation. As denoted above, this can be done with a cover page. You may also print the metadata of electronic documents. This should show when the document was created and last modified, and with some software it may show by whom. For emails, ensure the header is expanded before printing; for screenshots, try to include the time and date from your taskbar in the image.
DOCUMENT: For in person meetings, phone calls, and important events, document what happened and write down what was said by whom as soon as possible after the meeting or event ends. Again, be cautious here; some states have laws that prohibit recording others in a private setting without their permission - ergo, taking notes immediately after is preferable to audio recording during. Maintain proof you were in attendance - admission ticket, e-vite, names of attendees next to whom you sat (exchange business cards so they remember sitting next you), or even parking validation. If an official record of the meeting or event was taken, request a copy. Explain any difference between your notes and the official record. Did a speaker mute their microphone before making an objectional comment? Did an executive confess corporate malfeasance but asked the secretary not to include it in the record? Finally, do not compare your notes with that of a colleague until you have finalized your notes. You wouldn't want their (perhaps mistaken) recollection to influence yours. When you do compare, you may concede that it was you who was mistaken, but you still want to get down your version of the facts without influence before synthesizing with others.
If you have a collection of documents or were witness to peculiar events and would like to discuss your legal rights in light of these documents and events, do not hesitate to contact us to schedule a consultation.
Blog posts do not constitute legal advice or representation. Be sure to consult with an attorney of your choosing before taking action.