Lawyers scribbling detailed notes on a legal pad is one of the most notable ways that the legal industry is depicted. Detailed notes help you in many aspects of your legal practice. Yet, there are times when it seems to be extremely time consuming. Besides, you have a good memory! You’ll remember this later, right? Here are 3 reasons why lawyers should always embrace the process of creating detailed notes.
Ethical Issues May Be Avoided or Proven Unfounded
Detailed notes can help you avoid ethical issues. They help you fulfil your duty of competence. If, for example, you’re investigated because a complaint was filed that you failed to act with competence, it could be because you did not conduct a proper interview of your client or witnesses associated with their legal matter. How detailed notes should be constructed depends on what must be recorded. Using the example of interviewing, you’d want to note every time you had contact, every attempted contact, and summarize conversations and correspondence related to contact. You’d record pertinent information about your legal or factual research, strategies you’ve analyzed and discussed, and anything else that is an aspect of representation.
Detailed notes can also help prove that an ethical issue is nothing more than an unfounded allegation. If you’re investigated by the state bar, they will request certain documents from you. Providing detailed notes can help absolve you of any wrongdoing.
Helps Resolve Client Disagreements
If a client’s matter is resolved and they return to you and question your actions and disagree with what you told them you did, your detailed notes can help you by highlighting the previous conversation had about the subject at the center of the disagreement. Your notes should reflect every time you spoke with the client, the subject of the conversation, how the conversation was conducted (such as over the phone, in person, or through an email), and what you said to them. Properly detailed notes can help you resolve client disagreements.
Documents Contact with Non-clients
If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know that Zavieh Law advocates the use of a non-engagement letter if you plan to turn down a case. Creating a non-engagement letter (and using it) is just one way that you can protect yourself from a potential ethical issue. Another way to protect yourself is by using detailed notes for non-clients. Detailing contact with a potential client can help prove that you did not agree to represent them. Well written notes can also help you if you eventually plan to follow up with the non-client in the future for the purpose of business development.
Keeping Detailed Notes Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult or Time Consuming
Keeping detailed notes doesn’t have to turn into a difficult process. It also doesn’t have to be time consuming. After any sort of contact on the phone, in person, or through email, take a few minutes to type up or dictate a summary of your conversation. Cover the important points. Add in any written notes you took. You can even send the client a summary of your conversation notes if you’d like.
You can use voice to text technology to create your notes. This can be done using your cell phone, software designed for this purpose, or even free options like Google Documents. Just remember to review your notes for accuracy and make any necessary changes before saving the note or sharing it with the client.
Remember to maintain your notes. Don’t lose them. Choose a system for creating and maintaining detailed notes that works best for you…and use it. If you can’t find your notes when you need them, it’s the same consequence as if they never existed.