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Documents Live On in Paperless Architecture Firms

Physical paper may have given way to PDFs. Ink pens may have been replaced by stylus pens. What architecture firms don’t have to worry about being replaced or disappearing, however, are documents.

From initial engagement contracts to drawings, specifications, change orders and RFPs when dealing with governmental agencies, architecture firms face a mountain of documents – and the necessary task of organizing and archiving these documents.

(Or, at least, a firm should have a policy for organizing and archiving.)

Here are three reasons why your firm should draft a recordkeeping policy that everyone can get on board with:

1. Be Prepared to Litigate Lawsuits

A significant amount of time can pass between the time you accept an engagement, complete the project, and finally receive a letter from a client alleging an impropriety. Because a lawsuit can be filed years after a project has been completed, your firm will want to be prepared to defend its work from the moment it says “yes” to accepting an engagement.

And, in many of these cases, the precise wording of the document plays a significant role in who comes out the victor.

The best defense against lawsuits is documents that tell a project's entire story. Even better is contemporaneous documentation that's created while the project is actually taking place - just like a journalist recording his thoughts and observations of a current event as it is unfolding.

Your recordkeeping policy should have detailed instructions for how to archive documents involved with an engagement - from who initially creates the paperwork to how it ultimately gets archived by your preferred software program.

2. Lower Professional Liability Costs

Does your firm “go bare?” Many small architecture firms don’t carry liability insurance fearing that a policy is like having a bulls-eye on their back – meaning the firm is more likely to get sued because it has the resources to pay the sought-after monetary damages.

According to Victor O. Schinnerer and Company, one of the nation’s largest writers of Errors & Omissions policies, the number of annual number of claims per 100 firms spiked from 12.5 in the early 1960s to 42 in the mid-1980s before settling into its current range of 15 to 20 over the past several years.

If you do decide to carry an E&O policy, internal documenting and reporting practices can demonstrate to insurance companies that your firm poses a lower risk - and should be rewarded with lower premium costs.

3. Better Client Relations and More Profitable Engagements

When generating paperwork and documentation, ask yourself what updates and information would you want and expect if you were the client. At a minimum, you would probably like to be informed of all major events during an engagement without being inundated with superficial pieces of information.

Always have contracts that define the relationships between the parties involved, including the scope of the work to be performed by each party. The goal is no surprises (or as few as possible) during a project for any of the parties involved. Managing expectations can allow business relationships to remain amicable, even when disagreements do arise.

And what happens when you have happy clients? It usually means more profitable projects. You spend less time putting out fires from a client that micromanages every phase of a project and more time cultivating the relationship, which oftentimes paving the way for future work.

Preparing for litigation, lowering insurance costs and increasing client satisfaction are just a few of the benefits an effective recordkeeping policy can have for your firm. With documentation management software such as ArchiOffice making it easier than ever to get your paperwork under control, you can devote more of your time to the architecture-related tasks you enjoy.

The Author

Steven Burns, FAIA

Steven Burns, FAIA, spent 14 years managing his firm Burns + Beyerl Architects. After creating ArchiOffice®, the smart office and project management solution for architectural firms, Steve brought his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is perfecting the business strategy and product development.

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