Record keeping should be an integral part of everyday practice. Unfortunately, with the fast pace of business, client demands, meetings, and site visits, recording that file note may be the last thing on your mind. A good and efficient system of record keeping is often overlooked, even by the most prudent of professionals, as a vital part of running a business.
1.A good system of record keeping is important because it could be considered a form of interaction that a Court may refer to if a dispute arises. Records serve as evidence of communications, decisions, actions made, and a complete history of a project.
Think about the last time you were able to accurately recall events. Would you be able to recall what was said last week, last month or even last year? Many individuals and even experts would have difficulty, and Courts are reluctant to rely on memory alone. A witness giving evidence in Court is likely to be found more credible if they kept and recorded details of events pertaining to the issue being ventilated. In these circumstances, file notes, documents, emails, and written communications can assist.
Essentially, if it was not written down then it could be construed not to have occurred. In too many instances disputes arise because there was a misunderstanding, an oversight, or flawed advice. All these interactions should be recorded, no matter how simple they appear to be.
2.A good system of record keeping is beneficial to your practice because it will provide quick and easy access to documents. Whilst it has other internal benefits, a records management system also benefits external parties such as your insurer’s lawyers and experts, if the need arises.
Generally, when a professional indemnity claim is made against your practice your insurer will require access to your file. This would include a variety of documents which could be stored physically or electronically. Having an efficient system for storing this information and quickly accessing it will assist your insurer in providing you with timely and accurate advice in defending a claim made against you.
Other requests for documentation by Courts and other bodies are also not uncommon. Requests such as these are to be met diligently and expeditiously, even though such requests may not necessarily concern your involvement on the project. If you are concerned with any such requests being made of you, you should consult your insurer.
3.A good system of record management is also important for compliance. From an insurance perspective it is generally recommended that records be kept for up to 10 years. However, with the increased use of digital storage systems this could mean that records ought to be kept for longer, if not indefinitely. This is noteworthy because some claims can be made years after construction is completed and the defects liability period has ended. Having records stored for a longer period may assist in such circumstances.
What Should be Documented and Recorded?
As a starting point records or documents which include any information that can impact the project, planning decisions, future actions, and overall results (whether financial or non-financial) should be recorded and stored. These include, but are not limited to:
a.Advice and recommendations from sub-consultants and actions taken as a result of same.
b.Problems raised or encountered during the project, the considered solutions, the solutions that were implemented, and the rationale behind them.
c.Verbal communications such as meetings, phone calls, and face-to face discussions where decisions are made or instructions given.
d.Research and/or information relevant to your design, including notes and photographs.
e.Documents which form part of your brief or any documents which amend your brief.
Overall, good record keeping can assist in helping you find the information you require when you need it. It also provides an accurate history of what occurred on the project, the decisions made, and the actions taken. It also assists in conducting a better practice, meeting relevant compliance and legal requirements, and could protect you when claims are made against you.