Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio June
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
HOW TO KEEP A PAPER TRAIL
Planners must document the entire meeting process, even
No one’s memory is infallible. Indeed, one
reason I preach against oral contracts is that even the best minds
often conveniently fail to remember what was agreed to, especially
when it comes to clauses that might be contested.
What should the meeting professional do to preserve the essence
of the deal? Keep a comprehensive paper trail to protect the
process and document what has gone on.
When it comes to litigation, one of the first things lawyers do
is demand the production of all relevant documents. These days, the
definition of a “document” goes well beyond the formal paper
record; it includes e-mails, handwritten notes, tape recordings,
phone logs, phone bills and any other media or sources. The court
can even require you to produce your computer hard drive to
ascertain whether a smoking-gun e-mail still can be detected
despite any efforts to delete.
Nonetheless, good records kept by a client are a lawyer’s dream.
I encourage mine to keep detailed notes on negotiations, since the
notes help me determine how the intent of each party was written
into the final contract.
In one case, I helped to defend a neophyte planner against a
hotel that was suing for attrition charges for rooms the planner
allegedly blocked after the contract was signed. Changes made in
various drafts of the contracts were the arguing point. Because no
one at the hotel kept notes showing why the changes were made, it
was difficult to ascertain the reasons for them, a fact that was to
the benefit of my client. There was nothing in the hotel’s file to
support its position.
WHAT TO SAVE
In general, the types of documents worth keeping permanently are
those of high legal significance. In the meetings business, any
pending contract information should be retained until the
satisfactory conclusion of the contract or event.
This includes good notes of all meetings, telephone calls, all
e-mails between participants, faxes, etc. Drafts of preceding
documents also can be helpful in determining the give-and-take of
Because so much business now is conducted electronically, a
digital document file should be established to archive comments
relating to a specific project. All materials should be placed in
that file, again pending the outcome of negotiations and a
successful completion of the project.
Once a project is completed, I recommend that paper and digital
documents be maintained for a minimum of three years after the
fact. This life span varies depending upon each organization’s
record-retention needs. One factor is the local statute of
limitations on when contract lawsuits must be filed.
WHEN TO TRASH
Every planner should have an organized method of trashing
documents, which we euphemistically call a “record retention”
program. (The advent of e-mails and digital filings has made this
process much more complex, but not impossible.) Yes, you can
legally delete potentially harmful documents, as long as it is done
as part of a consistent program. Once a lawsuit starts, it’s too
late to erase files and shred documents.
A basic rule of thumb: Keep information only as long as it is
necessary to the current conduct of business, as long as it is
required to be kept by statute or government regulation or as long
as the documents are relevant to pending or foreseeable
investigations or litigation.
All planners should find out what policies regarding record
retention are in place in their organizations. If there is no
policy or a limited one exists, a full program should be
established.Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.,
is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm
of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel
and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at [email protected]
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