ONRECORD’s co-founder, George Hibbert, advises how to encourge clients to keep records and gather the evidence they need when making a case.

You are the elite

If you are a solicitor, a barrister or anyone professionally or technically qualified you are part of an elite, not because of your social position but because of the effort that you have shown you can make over your years of training.  However much you may modestly disparage your own efforts, you will have proven, through your education and training, your ability to make a sustained effort over time, to understand the need to invest your energy and commitment in order to achieve a long term goal and to defer your rewards in order to succeed.  Further, your achievement is very niche.  For most professions (although not the oldest), the effort you make is to organise your mind through writing.

Writing notes and keeping records is essential but so boring

Most people don’t or can’t commit to the often boring process of study with books and, by the time they reach adulthood, they have little appetite for the effort required.  It’s not that people don’t or can’t make an effort.  That’s obviously untrue.  You only have to see some of the amazing things people achieve without lifting a pen.  It’s just that for most people the laborious business of writing is easily and usually happily abandoned quite early in life.  We make a mistake if we imagine that others are like ourselves and have any interest or pleasure in writing and this is the point of this blog.

At ONRECORD we are preoccupied with helping people to make records.  We know from our experience, as a lawyer and a doctor, that the key to proving a pattern of behaviour, recording reliable and trustworthy evidence, building and proving a case, is record keeping.  Everyone who works in a seriously responsible job knows that the records they keep will be the evidence they need to rely upon if they ever have to justify their actions.  We have this message drummed into us throughout our training.  We know it to be true.  We think it’s obvious.  Whenever we are discussing an ongoing problem, we routinely tell our clients or patients that they should keep a record.  But they don’t.

Clients won’t do it without your encouragement

I was guilty of this lack of understanding for years in my psychiatric career.  Patients with agoraphobia or any other kind of anxiety disorder, were always asked to keep a diary, between appointments, of their symptoms and of the homework they did as part of therapy.  Again and again, patients would come to their next appointment with a scrap or two of paper with a few cursory notes, obviously done the night before.  Their notes were invariably useless and yet I always and routinely asked them to do it.

I understand the same is generally true for lawyers.  Clients very rarely make records in an organised way.  The best you can usually hope for is a carrier bag or, these days, a download of documents, receipts, emails, photos which you will have to sort out if you’re to assemble a coherent trail of evidence of what has been happening.

What I (eventually) learnt from the psychologists I worked with, who were far more disciplined than I, was that patients had to be very firmly, clearly and precisely told not only what records were needed but also that if they wanted to be helped and if they wanted to get better, they had to keep the records which were required for therapy.  They were helped by being given diary forms, with a template to complete for every occasion.  The forms were collected and transcribed into a chart to show progress, so that there was an obvious connection shown to the patient between record keeping and seeing progress.  This was a regime enforced kindly but very firmly.

We’ve made it easy for them and you

We at ONRECORD have already designed a simple, encouraging format for clients to use for record keeping.  We have plans to build in even more structure to help clients record the kind of detail needed to make their chronology a valuable document, so as to no longer leave it to chance that they will remember to include key information.  What we can’t do, though, is TELL users of ONRECORD that they must keep records.  This is where professional advisers need to step in.  If you advise your client to keep records, please recommend they use ONRECORD because it is uniquely purpose built for gathering evidence.  But also please, if you really want them to help you build their case, emphasise that, however reluctant they are to keep a record, they must do it.

If they do make a good record, they will make your job easier and their own chances of success substantially greater.  If you tell them to take it seriously, you will be doing them a huge favour.

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Catherine Reynolds
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