Some people are born obsessive organizers. Some are not. And while it’s not our job to tell you that your desk needs organizing or your wallet needs thinning out, our litigation department is awash in cases where parties lacked a solid system for pro-active record keeping. Sure, most of your dealings will conclude uneventfully, never to rise again. But as litigators, we see the deals (and details) that do come crawling back—those that seem more important in hindsight than in the present. Even the seemingly insignificant transactions can take on outsized importance if they can’t be proven.
Record-keeping does not require a twelve-color system for categorization, or keeping an immaculate tickler file. It can be as simple as writing an email to memorialize a phone call where an important decision was made, or documenting the specific reason that an employee was reprimanded and what they said in their defense. The key is that your records are created in the moment, and that a third-party could understand them (on some level). If you do it right, you might completely avoid a dispute or even litigation.
Very often in court cases, the party that better presents a recorded version of its position will win or benefit from a favorable settlement. Just as common are those cases that would never begin if one party hadn’t neglected to create, maintain, and organize, its records.
Banks and other institutions that we use everyday can provide proof of some transactions, but all too often it’s the important details that get lost. A simple note that takes 15 seconds to write can be priceless later—especially when your now-adversary did not keep notes.
As with all advice, you should find a way to make this work for your office. If it’s unpleasant and cumbersome, you won’t do it, and others won’t comply with protocol. The goal is to make better record-keeping a natural part of how you operate. If you do it right, you’ll never know how many pitfalls you’ve avoided.
We like to tell our clients that “you can pay us less now or pay us more later,” meaning that we can help create transactions that are far less susceptible to costly conflicts down the road. But even the most organized and prepared companies find themselves facing down obstinate counterparts. So when that “later” eventually arises, your clear, solid records will put you in the best position possible to defend yourself efficiently and effectively.