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Could Checklists Help My Practice?

Posted By Sara E. Rust-Martin, Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Many of us use checklists – for home projects, honey-do lists, and lots of other places. Yet, when you start talking about and suggesting using checklists in the daily practice of law folks look at you like you’re a bit crazy.

One of the problems for the disconnect could be the definition of checklist. “As lawyers, we love definitions, even definitions of something as simple as a checklist. [W]e refer to checklists, but what we are really talking about are systems or making sure that (1) tasks get done (2) correctly (3) every time. It is that simple and that complicated.” [i]

When you really think about it, we rely heavily on checklists in our daily lives. We make Christmas lists, shopping lists, lists for planning a wedding or other event, and lists for almost everything else we do. [ii] Sometimes we put them on a sticky note, or neatly write them down, and other times we keep them in our heads – but too often when we keep them in our heads, we forget something. [iii]

The value of checklists is clearly apparent to some, while others need some convincing. Many authors, researchers, and practitioners have contributed to assert that checklists will add value to your work by making your office more efficient and your practice more effective. Checklists can help lawyers mitigate malpractice risks and comply with ethical implications. Why? Because they assure that you will be doing what you say you will do and what you are required to do. Additionally, checklists can reduce training costs and help orient new hires on your firm’s practices. Once you have these checklists developed and streamlined you will not need to re-establish them each time a new employee is hired.

All of this is contained in the book: “Checklist for Lawyers” by Daniel Siegel. This book is the newest addition to the LOMAP Lending Library. Two of the most exciting contributions provided by this book are the recommended lists of checklists and the sample checklists. This book is available to check out from the Lending Library for 30 days by contacting Sara Rust-Martin at srustmartin@ksbar.org

Finally, if you’ve not read the “Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Dr. Atul Gawande then please consider purchasing this game-changing book about the critical need for checklists. While the context for the need for checklists in this book centers around the medical field, the larger issues are still ever-relevant for attorneys (eliminating mistakes). In the book, Gawande discusses how the modern-day accumulation of knowledge has become so unwieldy that it cannot be delivered reliably even by highly-trained and highly-skilled professionals. Instead, “[a]voidable failures are common and persistent.” [iv] Gawande argues that this is why checklists are essential as they “improve outcomes with no increase in skill.” [v]

Lawyers are facing complex problems every day. Checklists are systems designed to break down these complex problems into manageable, measurable tasks. All in all, checklists can simplify your complicated practice. They can assist you in meeting deadlines allowing you to provide the best representation to your clients so those clients not only remain your clients but sing your praises!



[i]  Daniel Siegel, Checklist for Lawyers (ABA Law Practice Division, 2014).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Metropolitan Books, 2009).

[v] Id.

Tags:  Checklists  Practice Management 

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