Leave a Paper Trail Whenever Possible As Part of a Clear Writing Discipline

As mentioned in previous blogs, many years ago I was involved in the case when singer/actress/entertainer Doris Day won a huge monetary award against her former lawyer Jerry Rosenthal. The trial judge found Rosenthal’s representation of Day to have many faults. He also found Rosenthal’s testimony at trial to be non-believable. The judge’s decision was affirmed on appeal.

Despite these shortcomings, I found Rosenthal to have excellent writing skills. One of them was the regimen he followed to keep track of his writings, i.e., creation of a paper trail. His use (some would say “over use”) of this practice is described in more detail in my book, “The Art of Clear Writing,” available on amazon.com/Kindle books and in print. For ease of reference I have repeated here what I wrote in my book on this subject.

“In affirming the trial court’s decision, the appellate court tagged Rosenthal as a “notorious note-keeper,” not without considerable justification. (For clarification, it should be noted that I was not involved in the appeal). To this appellation, I would add the adjective “meticulous.” That Rosenthal had a propensity for writing memos and letters was clear from the huge paper trail he left in the case. The record was littered with his writings, often in his own handwriting. He wrote a memo to memorialize, well, everything, and letters to do the same. And every memo was inscribed with, not only his initials, but the date and the time it was created.

The trial judge in his final decision referred to the “patina” of paper created by Rosenthal, which surrounded the case. In other words, her thought that all of Rosenthal’s memos and letters were a cover up to disguise his wrongdoing, to give some semblance of authenticity to his conduct…

As part of this practice, Rosenthal made a dairy entry on May 11, 1956 to memorialize a conversation he had with Doris Day on that date explaining the May 11, 1956 retainer agreements he reached with her and Marty Melcher. In these agreements, Rosenthal was given a ten percent interest in the Melchers’ earnings and investments. Later in 1963, he and Melcher agreed to build a financial empire together using Day’s money as capital, together with Melcher’s business experience and Rosenthal’s legal experience as contributing factors. Pursuant to this “Empire Agreement,” Rosenthal was to withdraw from the practice of law so as to devote all of his time to building the empire and was to be paid a salary of $100,000 per year plus expenses. He would be a fifty percent partner with the Melchers.

The judge did not believe that Rosenthal could explain the May 11, 1956 agreements to Day in 25 minutes, as he testified, and so disbelieved his testimony about everything, including the 1956 fee agreements and the later Empire Agreement, despite finding certain “chicken tracks of irrefutable facts” surrounding the latter. The judge consequently disbelieved Rosenthal’s entire seventeen days of testimony in the case. This ruling was based on the “falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus” (false as to one thing, false as to everything) doctrine. An interesting doctrine which could have application outside the field of law, e.g., politics, it formed a major basis for the court’s findings against Rosenthal, including the finding that his services to the Melchers over approximately twenty years of time were absolutely worthless.

But, notwithstanding this ruling against Rosenthal, the point to be made is that your writing skills should be applied to pursue the very same “note keeping” practices used by him. Becoming immersed in the vast ocean of records in the case could not help but leave a definite impression on me. It provided the impetus for me to upgrade my own record keeping habits. I increased my efforts to memorialize all telephone conversations by note or memo, and to follow up telephone and other conversations by letter and, later, by email, where appropriate.

Agreements, formal or informal, deadlines, things to do, errands, etc., all deserve to be put in writing. It’s good personal and business practice to leave a paper trail whenever possible, not only as a reminder of deadlines, but so as to avoid any misunderstandings as to who said what, when it was said, where it was said, etc. I still follow these practices today.”

Copyright © 2013. Arnold G. Regardie. All rights reserved.

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Filed under active voice, clear writing, good diction, history, punctuation, sound sentence structure, tips for good diction, Writing Improvement

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