Using Checklists to Avoid Problems

by Alexa Drago on August 5, 2019

By: Michael L Goldblatt

Originally Published on Blumberg Blog on May 20, 2019

Printed with the permission of www.Blumberg.com/blog and BlumbergExcelsior, Inc.


Checklists assure completeness and reduce failures in a variety of industries, including accounting, aviation, and healthcare. This article provides tips and resources for lawyers who want to use checklists to avoid problems in their law practice.


Purpose. Checklists compensate for cognitive limits on human memory and attention span. They help assure that all things are considered and completed.


Using. Checklists usually contain a concise list of important items, names, or tasks. They can be used for comparison, verification, and checking for completion. They apply to all areas of law practice including contracts, corporate, family, and litigation matters. Following are some practical applications for using checklists:


  • Name List – track names for litigation, marketing, networking purposes
  • Responsibility List – delegate tasks to lawyers and support staff
  • To Do List – enumerate tasks needed to complete a project
  • Topical List – identify matters to cover in contracts and other legal documents


Creating. Checklists can be handwritten on paper or by using a computer, smartphone, or other digital devices. Digital checklists can be created with word processing, spreadsheet, or calendaring programs. They can also be created with popular apps like Apple Reminders, Evernote, Google Keep, Microsoft To-Do, and Wunderlist.


Columns. Two columns are essential for every checklist – one for checkmarks and another for descriptions.  Additional columns can be used to identify persons responsible for handling and date for completion. Put the checkoff column first so each item can be easily marked with a √ or x when completed.  Use concise descriptions for each item so they can fit onto one line.


Saving. Whether created digitally or on paper, checklists can be saved in separate matter folders or in one general folder.  Consider printing a copy of every checklist and saving them together in a 3-ring binder for quick access.


Books, Articles, and Websites. Read technical journals to learn about the history and design of checklists and how they reduce risks. Read bar journals to learn how to use checklists in law offices to enhance efficiency, improve writing, prepare for trial, and prevent failures.  Get detailed guidance from books like the Checklist Manifesto, the Organized Lawyer, Checklists for General Practitioners, and Checklists for Family Lawyers. For sample checklists, purchase a compendium of legal checklists or download free checklists from bar association websites and law sites like FindLaw and Nolo.


Conclusion. Checklists can help you to organize, manage, and prioritize. Use checklists to avoid relying solely on your memory. Checklists can help you check status, plot deadlines, and share responsibility with lawyers and support staff.  Digital checklists facilitate the process by enabling members of the firm to collaborate and stay up to date.

Editor’s Note:

The Office of Attorney Regulation has published a Self-Audit Checklist that is downloadable as a MSWord document or a PDF.  The checklist is a practical way to assess financial, managerial, and technology practices for firms of all sizes.


About the Author

Mr. Goldblatt has authored numerous books and articles about marketing for lawyers.

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