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It's the architect's nightmare - the RIBA agreement is filled in and signed by the client, and in the drawer it goes, writes Cyril Chern. Until, that is, the day arrives when a problem arises.

Who was to do what? Who was going to be responsible for what? When and where was this to be done?

All of these questions now arise, and, despite what the printed agreement says, no one seems to have followed it. And now a solicitor is sending you nasty letters demanding your prompt performance according to the terms of the agreement.

These kind of problems can be prevented. They have to do with the misinterpretation of changes made during the performance of the agreement, which are not made to the original agreement. These can include your moving on with the design when the client has not given a firm sign-off to a portion of it. Or the client changing their mind, then again, and yet again, way after you thought you had the situation in hand, and you now want extra compensation.

Or something comes up at a project meeting during construction and everyone (but you) claims you agreed to something that is now critical and you have no recollection, or worse yet thought someone else was responsible.

Keeping good records in the form of a job diary on each project can prevent all this.

If you get in the habit of religiously documenting every meeting/discussion and who is/will be responsible for implementing any work resulting from that meeting, you can prevent these nightmare scenarios. More importantly, it will be of great help in the event of a dispute.

What should the diary contain? From a legal standpoint the best record is one kept regularly and in the ordinary course of business, recording the parties present, what was agreed and who agreed to do it and which is supplied promptly to each person present with a proviso that comments, changes or corrections are made within a set period (say 10 business days).

If not, the document will stand as a 'correct record' of the events occurring. This should be sent via email or fax so you have a record, and the final corrected copy should be kept in a file with the project name on it. A sample form would contain the following:

name of project;

location of meeting;

meeting number;

date of meeting;

parties present (with email addresses); and agenda for meeting.

For the agenda, list each item discussed and assign a meeting number to each item so it can be tracked later so, for example, a discussion of a room redesign might be listed as Item No 3.05, which would be meeting number three, item number five on that agenda. If this item was not resolved and came up several meetings later it would still bear its original item number until it was settled.

This helps to prevent confusion when revisiting the matter.

Include what was said about each item in summary form, eg. , architect Jones agreed to redesign the conference room for the fourth time, before the next scheduled meeting.

Conclude with a phrase such as: 'These meeting minutes contain a true and correct record of the events occurring and unless any corrections are received within ten (10) business days of the date hereof these minutes shall stand as recorded.'

Attach any emails about the project and anything agreed to and by whom and reference them in the minutes.

While anyone can prepare such a diary, it takes determination to keep it up to date. A continuous record of the interaction of the parties will keep any misunderstandings to a minimum and, most importantly, protect the architect.

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