Lisa Charles explains why attendance notes are integral to a well-run file.
Part of my role is to undertake file reviews – yup I’m one of those annoying people who nit-picks through your files to find out if you have stepped over the compliance line. If it’s any consolation, I’ve been there, I know that other things can get in the way and that the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. I am also old enough to have worked with solicitors whose idea of an attendance note was a scribble on the back of an envelope!
Back in my training contract days, I was taught that your files should be easy to follow and up to date so that if you were ever hit by the proverbial bus, another fee-earner could pick up your file with ease. I think that is good grounding to file management and I also think detailed attendance notes is a vital part of that. We in the compliance world are obsessed with ‘Risk’ and adequate attendance notes can help to protect you from risk.
Unfortunately, it is not unusual for me to come across files where there are attendance notes missing or the attendance notes gives no detail at all (e.g. ’updated Mr X’). But does it really matter?
Let’s take the example of an attendance note that just states ‘updated Mr X’. The Solicitor, let’s call him Mr Law, was not on the phone with Mr X for very long, say 1 unit, it was a conveyancing matter and Mr Law said he was hopefully for completion on the 30th of September, but there was nothing set in stone. Mr X goes away happy with the progress and calls on the 12th September asking if the completion was still going ahead tomorrow on the 13th September (spot the easy mistake!), he has paid for a removal van and taken some time off work.
Mr X is fuming when he finds out that completion is not going to be for another two weeks, he was told it was definitely going ahead and he has wasted money on a removal van and booked time off work. The matter is referred to the complaints manager, Mr Law is adamant that he said the 30th September and that he explained it was not set in stone, the complaints manager believes him and asks for a copy of the attendance note so that he can return to Mr X….
On the other hand, imagine if there was a detailed attendance note of what was said, and what a better position the firm would be in? Better still, if this attendance was backed up by a quick email, the misunderstanding and resulting complaint would not have happened at all.
The reality of the situation is that an attendance note that doesn’t say much such as ‘updating Mr X’ is often no better than no attendance at all.
The lack of attendance notes could be at best embarrassing for the fee earner and the complaints manager (such as in the case of Mr X above), or at worst costly (in monetary and reputation terms) for the firm if any claim is made. It’s also worth noting that it is not looked on favourably by insurers so you could see your premiums hike up.
If you’ve read this (and have nearly reached the end!) that is a good start. If you are the COLP or a manager, it would be worth:
1. Checking if your staff are aware of the importance of attendance notes?
2. Establishing if lack of attendance notes is a problem for certain individuals, in which case you should know who they are and address it.
3. Training staff, especially if it’s a widespread issue.
4. Checking whether attendance notes (or lack of) area picked up as part of your file reviewing procedure (you are doing file reviews, right?!)
5. Practice what you preach!