Chances are that at some point in your career, a lawyer — yours, or someone else’s — will want to review notes you took at a meeting or during a phone conversation. So thinking ahead to that possibility, whenever you take notes, you should routinely do as many of the following things as you can remember, especially the first three things, to increase the odds that a later reviewer will get an accurate picture of the event. It will help you stay out of undeserved trouble and save money on legal fees
- Indicate who said what you’re writing down. Unless you want to risk having someone else’s statements mistakenly attributed to you, indicate in your notes just who has said what. EXAMPLE: Suppose that John Doe says in a meeting that your company’s offshore oil-well drilling project can skip certain safety checks. Remembering the BP drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, you don’t want anyone to think you were the guy who suggested this. So your notes might say, for example, "JD: Let’s skip safety checks,"; if you omitted John Doe’s initials, it wouldn’t be clear that you weren’t the one who made his suggestion.
- On every page, write the meeting date and time, the subject, and the page number. The reason: Your lawyer will probably want to build a chronology of events; you can help her put the meeting into the proper context by “timestamping” your notes. This will also reduce the risk that an unfriendly party might try to quote your notes out of context.
- If a lawyer is participating, indicate this. That will help your lawyer separate out documents that might be protected by the attorney-client privilege. EXAMPLE: “Participants: John Doe (CEO); Ron Roe (ABC Consulting, Inc.); Jane Joe (general counsel).”
- Start with a clean sheet of paper. When copies of documents are provided to opposing counsel, in a lawsuit or other investigation, it’s better if a given page of notes doesn’t have unrelated information on it. This goes for people who take notes in bound paper notebooks too: It’s best to start notes for each meeting or phone call on a new page, even though this means you’ll use up your notebooks more quickly.
- Write in pen for easier photocopying and/or scanning, and also because pencil notes might make a reviewer (for example, as an opposing counsel) wonder whether you might have erased anything, and perhaps falsely accuse you of having done so.
- Write “CONFIDENTIAL” at the top of each page of confidential notes. That will help preserve any applicable trade-secret rights; it will also help your lawyer segregate such notes for possible special handling in the lawsuit or other investigation.
- List the participants. Listing the participants serves as a key to the initials you’ll be using, as discussed in item 1 above. It can also refresh your recollection if you ever have to testify about the meeting. If some people are participating in an in-person meeting by phone, indicate that. Indicate each participant’s role if isn’t obvious or well-known – remember, you might know who someone is, but a later reader likely won’t. EXAMPLE: “Participants: John Doe (CEO); Ron Roe (ABC Consulting, Inc.); Chris Coe (marketing).”
- Indicate the time someone joins or leaves the meeting, especially if it’s you (so that you’re not later accused of having still been there if something bad happened after you left).
- Write down the stop time of the meeting. This usually isn’t a big deal, but it’s nice to have for completeness.