They’re useful for recalling the nitty-gritty, though there are some legal restrictions
Leaving a paper trail is a good idea, even if you’re not director of the FBI.
The White House is under bipartisan fire after a New York Times report that then-FBI director James Comey documented a request from President Donald Trump to terminate an investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security advisor. The Trump Administration denied the story, which has been confirmed by others, that POTUS told Comey— who he subsequently fired— that Flynn was a “good guy” and that he hoped “you can let this go.”
That Comey documented his meeting with the President via a written memo, as his associates have said, is no surprise. The former top G-Man is known in Washington D.C. as a meticulous notetaker. Trump operates in a similar vein: In his New York tabloid king days, he was said to tape phone calls. Indeed, in a tweet after firing Comey, the president warned that the law enforcement agent should hope that there weren’t “tapes” of their discussions.
One thing I learned at DOJ about Comey: he leaves a protective paper trail whenever he deems something inappropriate happened. Stay tuned. https://t.co/sENlYyhL5B
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) May 12, 2017
James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2017
Even if your job doesn’t require Senate confirmation, keeping memos is “absolutely” a good idea, says executive coach Debra Benton, who has worked with companies like Citi and General Electric. It’s especially important to write notes about projects you’re working on and how you’re solving the problems as they arise.
It’s also a good idea to jot down both ideas for new projects and information about new people you’ve met. One big reason: “Memory fails us all. We think we’ll remember but we don’t— especially when it comes to the nuances of details,” says the co-author of “The Leadership Mind Switch.
Keep written documentation of controversial conversations if you’re having interpersonal struggles with a boss or colleague, experts say. These notes may prove useful if you end up in a human resources dispute, she Benton, who recommends keeping the notes on potentially touchy conversations brief, factual and non-personal. “It’s not a diary, so you don’t have to state how you feel,” she says.
Such memos typically aren’t directly admissible in court since they’re regarded as hearsay, says Vivek Krishnamurthy, assistant director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School. But that doesn’t mean they have no use. “It’s like swiss cheese, there are lots of ways around it,” he says. For instance, a good attorney can use a memo to probe the memory of a witness under oath, who then repeats what was said in the document, as another way of getting the evidence in.
If you do go the Trump route of taping conversations, keep in mind local laws that may require you to obtain consent. “In most states and in federal law which applies in D.C., it’s lawful for any one party to a conversation to record it,” says Krishnamurthy, adding that Trump’s home state of New York only requires so-called “single-party consent.” However, in about a dozen states including California and Massachusetts, it’s a crime to record conversations without consent from everyone involved.
In certain professions there are constraints that prevent you from publicly releasing notes. Take for instance, a psychiatrist who tapes conversations with a patient and then releases the recording onto the internet. Or, in the age of the Internet, one romantic partner recording an intimate act and then posting it online as “revenge porn.” “If it’s something very personal and embarrassing, it could be a civil case involving public disclosure of private fact,” Krishnamurthy says.
Of course, your memos can also be useful to a future generation long after you’re retired. “They’re a wonderful thing to give to your children when they are facing the same issues at work that you experienced,” Benton said.
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