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The great maxim on which American law is based that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty does not always rise easily in the architect’s defense when a claim is made. And when the contractor’s project log is rolled out to display the architect’s delinquency in reviewing submittals and responding to RFIs, a presumption of guilt usually follows. It is then incumbent upon the architect to produce sufficient defensive documentation to prove innocence, if such documentation exists.

Meanwhile, the digital world has taken the pen from our hands, and no one writes letters anymore; everyone sends emails. Ironically, the email provides better documentation than the written letter; as traceable as certified mail; and telephone calls and phone texts can be documented as effectively as emails. If you have doubts, just ask the NSA.

Today, for many, the smart phone is the tool of choice for managing billion dollar projects, and the immediate access and transmission of documents is demanded. The portable document format, PDF, has liberated, or perhaps it is more accurate to say unleashed, contractor submittals, and architects may be expected to review unforeseen and unacquainted VE proposals and respond within the hour to avoid the accusation of delay. All the while the sanctity of the written word is dependent upon who physically possesses a digital copy in her or his server.

Nonetheless, these supposed improvements in technology do not limit or diminish the need for the written word, be it digitized or scribed on the pulp based remnants of a tree. For now, our legal system continues to hinge on documentation, and it is the crucible by which the accused design professional’s fate is tested and determined in the courts.

This paper will address the critical issue of project documentation as it applies to project communications, decisions and record keeping. When a claim is made, actions taken and decisions made by the architect will be generally unsupported unless there is a written record, and the architect will be presumed guilty unless proven otherwise by project records. This paper will provide a guideline for managing documentation with helpful suggestions for retention and retrieval and efficient claims response in the event you must prove your innocence.

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