LAWPRO’s practicePRO program maintains an impressive online collection of law practice management resources, including precedents, sample retainers, business plan templates, and yes – checklists.
Our most popular checklists include:
Independent legal advice (ILA) checklist
Domestic contract matter toolkit
Commercial transaction checklist
Risk-management checklist for sitting on a non-profit board
Employee departure checklist
These tools help lawyers organize, prioritize and track the steps they have taken and the issues they have covered when dealing with a matter, whether it be a client file or an office management task. They are designed to be saved separately for each use, and filled out and filed for future reference.
If you don’t already use checklists in your practice, your excuse may be that you’ve been practising so long that you know the necessary steps in your work better than you know your home phone number… or that you could do these tasks in your sleep. But that’s exactly why the longer you’re in practice, the more important it may become to use checklists.
When studying how memory works, and specifically, why we forget the things we do, researchers like J.A. Bergström have suggested that when we create multiple similar memories – for example, when we complete the same task over and over for different clients – the overlay of similar memories makes it more difficult for us to retrieve the details of any particular instance from the cache. This effect is called the “interference theory” of forgetting. A lawyer may assert that she always reviews any provisions in an equipment lease relating to early termination penalties with lessee clients; but if asked to recall the details (when? In person? Over the phone? Did the client have any questions?) of this particular conversation with a particular client represented four or five years ago, she may draw a blank. Unless, of course, she can retrieve an annotated checklist from the file.
If you could do something in your sleep, your memories of having done it may fade like a dream… but the client, for whom the transaction may be unique or rare, stands a much better chance of remembering very clearly. In the event of a claim arising from the transaction, the way our memories work puts experienced lawyers at a disadvantage. Use a checklist!