The Vital Importance of Written Documentation in Legal Matters
Written documentation is absolutely essential. If it’s not written down, someone, somewhere, somehow, will swear it never happened or it was never said or that it was misinterpreted. If you have a dispute, your contact logs, emails and letters are independent evidence that supports your memory of what occurred.
Make requests in writing. Write polite follow-up letters or emails to document, phone calls, events, discussions, and meetings. Note that in nearly all courts, e-mails are treated the nearly the same as any other written communication (one may raise authenticity issues but typically then has to pay for an expert to purse this line of argument). While texts are also often also accepted as documentary evidence by courts they can be more difficult to preserve and reproduce. Thus, they may be less useful for your attorney if you need to hire one.
Documentation that supports one’s position is a key to resolving disputes early or proving your position to a court. On rare occasions it can help your attorney persuade the opposition at a pre-trial mediation or other conference.
When a dispute with another person or an entity arises, assume that someone will testify about one’s recollections. Memories are unreliable and influenced by emotions. If a husband, wife, or parent’s problems boils down to their word against the word of another, they may not prevail without proper documentation.
However, if one’s recollections are supported by a journal, contact log and/or calendar that describes the problem or event, it creates a stronger position. One’s journal or log should be contemporaneous — that is, written when or immediately after the events or incidents occurred.
If you can produce a letter that describes what the opposition either agreed to do or refused to do, your position will be stronger.
If an opposing party asks you to sign a consent or permission form, get a copy for your records. Your copy establishes to what you agreed.
Documents answer questions and reduce room for doubt. Documents provide answers to “Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How” Just as importantly, they explain questions.
- Who attended meetings when decisions were made?
- How was a schedule created?
- Who participated in making a decision?
- Were all of the stakeholders involved?
- Why was someone not advised about this meeting?
- When was this meeting held?
- When did the parent receive something in the mail?
- When did the school inform the parent about this change in program and placement?
- Explain how a new plan was implemented.
- When did the party agree to leave a residence.
- What services or supports did the school agree to provide?
- What services or supports did the school refuse to provide?
- What reasons did the school give for their refusal?
- Why a party is engaging in a particular course of action?
- How did the parents come to agree to a particular schedule?
Below we have an example of a “Sample Contact Log” (Note that the headings we used might make good column titles in a spreadsheet)
Use a log to document all contacts between you and a school, another parent ,or spouse. Your log should include telephone calls, messages, meetings, letters, and notes between you and the school staff. Figure 1 is a contact log for telephone calls.
Figure 1: Contact Log:
What you wanted
What you were told
Your log is a memory aid and will help you remember what happened and why.
Many like to record their appointments in a monthly or “Year at a Glance” calendar. Calendars can provide good evidence about meeting dates and times.
If you document meeting dates and times in a calendar, write a description of what happened at the meeting in your journal or log.
Do not throw your calendar away at the end of the year!
A journal is like a diary and should be clear and legible.
If one requests an evidentiary hearing or trial, their journal may be important evidence in your case. Remember though, that writings, journals, logs, calendars, and letters may be requested in discovery by opposing parties or their attorney, if represented. Moreover, posts to FaceBook or other social media may also be subject to discovery by the district.
Therefore, assume that your opponent(s) and their attorneys will read your papers and other writings or posts. Stick to the facts. Do not use the journal to report your feelings and frustrations.
When you write into your journal, write to the “Stranger” who has the power to fix problems (typically an Independent Hearing Officer or perhaps a Judge or Magistrate). The “Stranger” has no idea who the parties are or what they are experiencing. So, especially at the outset, one must write to inform the Stranger about the needs of the party or student and where the other party is failing to meet those needs. When the Stranger reads your journal, the Stranger will understand your perspective and more likely want to fix your problems.