Client notes are an important part of any attorney-client relationship. The general concept of taking notes is that you’re documenting items such as the subjects of conversation, who you spoke with, the work you’ve completed related to the matter, and the work that must be completed. Keeping better client notes helps ensure that you’re in compliance with the practical rules in your jurisdiction. In this post, you’re going to learn about how to keep better client notes.
Understand How Keeping Better Client Notes Helps Your Practice
The following is by no means an all-inclusive list of the ways that keeping better client notes helps your practice. However, the list does represent some of the most common uses of those notes.
Helps Your Practice Answer Client Questions
Clients often have questions. Those questions could be about advice that you gave to them. Consulting your client notes can remind you of when you spoke with the client regarding that advice and what you told them to do. It also documents what they said to you. Detailing conversations is one of the most common ways that client notes are used by lawyers. Using your notes will help refresh your memory and also remind the client of a previous conversation, if necessary. It also helps you answer other questions that the client may have. It is vital that this sort of information is included in your client notes.
May Help Protect You If You’re Investigated by the Bar
If you’re investigated by the state bar, they’re usually looking to determine if you fulfilled your duty of competence. By keeping better client notes, the state bar is able to review the days and times you contacted or attempted to contact your client, a witness, or another person involved in the matter at hand. Your client notes would also show notes about interviews you conducted. You should also include entries about conducting legal and factual research, analyzing strategy, or any other part of representation. Good notes can help you avoid punishment by the state bar.
You’re Able to Document Contact with Non-Clients
Sometimes, a disclaimer or a non-engagement letter simply isn’t enough. Detailing this contact can help protect you in the event that a non-client reports you to the bar. Client notes should include information on the contact and why you chose not to engage them. You should also document when you sent out the non-engagement letter.
How to Keep Better Client Notes
Now that you’ve had a refresher on the ways that keeping better client notes can help, let’s talk about how you can keep better ones. It’s important to remember that why notetaking seems like (and really is) a simple process, it can be a difficult habit to start and maintain. Do not fall into the mindset of doing it later. Unfortunately, that may be too late and you could forget necessary details.
- Choose the right medium for your client notes. You could use a yellow pad while you’re on the phone or talking with a client in person. This is a quick way to document the date, time, and details of the conversation without appearing to be buried in a computer screen. However, you must have a permanent location for your notes that makes them easy for you to find. If you’re using practice management software, you likely have a ready made place for notes for clients. If you’re not using practice management software, you could create Word documents for each client matter. You could use OneNote. There are a lot of options that you can use. Find one that works well for you and stick to it.
- After a phone call or meeting, spend 10 minutes putting your notes together. Make sure that you include all of the important conversation topics. If you have concerns about working with a particular client, you may want to summarize your notes and send them to the client via email. This helps improve client communication.
- Make sure that your conflicts database has a spot for notes. When it comes to keeping client notes related to a non-client, it’s important that you clearly explain why you chose to turn down the matter. The notes field in your conflicts database should allow for an unlimited amount of words or characters. For reports that you print, make sure that the notes column is included. You may not need that information every single time, but it’s far better to have it and not need it than to not have it and get a visit from the state bar.
- Utilize talk-to-text. Talk-to-text technology exists for your phone. It’s present in Google Documents. There are applications such as Dragon Dictation that also act as talk-to-text. These options are valuable time savers. You can keep better client notes when you’re in or out of the office.
- Maintain existing notes. Keeping good client notes is highly beneficial, but they won’t do you any good if you can’t find them. When you create a system, make sure that you use it. Technology based notes make it easy to find your notes when you need them. Yellow pads and other manual note taking options could get lost. If you’re insistent on using manual note taking, you can opt to scan or type your notes into the computer directly after a phone call or meeting.
Client notes are essential. Remember to stay on top of them and take advantage of technology to make the process easier!