Contract Dispute Brewing? Keep Documentation

If you are a contractor or subcontractor for a project relating to the U.S. Government (USG), and you encounter a dispute or think you may pursue a legal action, please know that the documentation you keep is critical.  Specifically, you should (1) save documents and electronic information related to the dispute; and (2) keep a journal of important events relating to the dispute.

Do not assume that other parties will keep important documents and produce them to you later, or will agree with your undocumented recollections of events, so you want to be sure you have your own documents to support your claim.

More about keeping documentation…

1. Save Important Documents/Electronic Information.

You should save copies of all important documents and electronic information, including emails,  that involve your concerns (unless there is a rule explicitly prohibiting this for some reason). If you are not sure whether to keep a document, then keep it.

For example, for a contract-related dispute, you should make sure you save copies of the solicitation for the contract, the contract itself (and any amendments/modifications), correspondence and emails relating to the contract, minutes of meetings you took, and any other document or electronic information that relates to the contract or dispute.

All too often, the attorney authors of ths blog speak with prospective clients who lost or threw away mportant documents that could have helped them with their case. Their mistake is understandable- in everyday life (where litigation is not an immediate concern), it helps people stay organized to reduce excess papers and documents. But if you bring a legal claim, those documents may become valuable to proving your case.

2. Keep A Journal.

If bad things or important things are happening, keep a journal of those things. Each time something bad or important happens with regard to the dispute, write down: (1) exactly what happened, or exactly what was said; (2) the date and time it occurred; and (3) the names and titles of the people involved.

3. If You Complain About Something, Put It in Writing.

If you are thinking of making a complaint (e.g. about a failure of a party to follow the contract, failure to make a payment to you, etc.), you should weigh the risks of retaliation and consider other factors before going forward with a complaint. If you do decide to go ahead and complain, consider making that complaint in writing, so you create documentation of what was said.

If you complain initially in person, that is fine, but consider following it up with an email or letter summarizing or repeating what was said during your meeting.

If you do not document your complaints and other important communications with the other party, you are at high risk of that party: (1) not remembering exactly what was said; (2) remembering things in a way that is more favorable to them than what actually occurred; or (3) denying you complained at all. Please do not assume people will remember or accept your version of events. Document your version, so there can be no doubt what you told them.

Conclusion

If you have a dispute forming or believe there are any potential legal concerns that could arise with your contract, please keep the tips above in mind, and be constantly aware of the value of keeping a journal and documentation.

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