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Advantages of checklists for large firms - Roadmaps for leveraging junior talent and quality control

Posted by Jack Bostelman on May 20, 2016 | 0 Comments

Keith Mayfield, chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm, is reading about a free ABA webinar on May 26 called Checklists for Lawyers: Roadmaps for accuracy and completeness. This webinar features an M&A partner from Skadden Arps talking about use of checklists throughout the firm's practice areas. Keith thinks about his own firm's checklists initiative. A few years ago, in frustration following years of no progress on standard forms in the firm's Commercial Finance Group, Keith pushed for a firmwide initiative to switch to enhanced checklists. The effort has made great progress throughout the firm, and Keith is thinking about how to take it to the next level. His firm's previous efforts are chronicled in my two prior blog posts, What good is a checklist in a law firm? and How checklists for legal opinions can improve quality and reduce costs.

Enhanced checklists beat standard forms

In the firm's pilot program, the Commercial Finance Group created "anatomy of an agreement" checklists instead of standard forms. These checklists

  • describe the key provisions of an agreement
  • have more content than a simple "to do" list
  • are used by the draftsperson to gain an understanding of the finer points of the key provisions
  • track the main section headings of the agreement, and perhaps important subsections
  • include cross-references to secondary explanatory material, such as a useful firm memo, relevant articles or sections of a treatise

Importantly, the checklists include cross-references to precedents - example provisions from real matters - with commentary explaining what the provisions illustrate.

Key advantages of checklists over standard forms are that they:

  • are easier to produce - they can start simple and grow in detail over time
  • avoid partner review gridlock - they don't purport to be complete and are always works in progress
  • are useful for reviewing lawyers - standard forms are not helpful when reviewing a draft prepared by another firm
  • are nimbly updated - portions can be updated at different times while the entire checklist remains in use

Why checklists?

Checklists serve two very important purposes. First, they enable more junior lawyers to move up the work food chain and perform a portion of the work of more senior lawyers. The cascading effect of this up the seniority levels results in more time for partners, enabling them to take on more work. The effect is increased leverage and therefore greater profitability.

Other types of checklists

Instead of describing the contents of an agreement, a checklist can also describe the steps for completing a certain type of matter or common task. These process checklists are sometines called "playbooks". This type of checklist could also include cross-references to relevant documents used during each step or even to a checklist of the type described above that describes the contents of a relevant document.

Yet another type of checklist lists all the documents needed in the matter – essentially a closing checklist. By including assignments of primary responsibility to the firm and various other parties involved in the matter it can also be used as a status tracking tool.

Free webinar explaining large firm use of checklists

Keith decides to check out the 30-minute webinar to learn ways in which another large firm has made advanced use of checklists. He also plans to ask his practice group leaders to view it. Finally, Keith notes that the other panelist, co-author of Checklists for lawyers, will provide advice on use of checklists by individual lawyers.

Full webinar announcement

Webinar #5:  “Checklists for lawyers: Roadmaps for accuracy & completeness” 

May 26, 2016 - 12:00 Noon, Eastern (30 minutes)

When super-efficient lawyers talk about checklists, they aren't making basic to-do lists. The best checklists for improving the efficiency of your law practice are more like roadmaps that guide you through task completion. Learning how to draft effective roadmaps benefits lawyers of all skill levels and practice areas.

This webinar will include a detailed discussion of the following:

  • Examples of roadmaps that work well in both large firms and small
  • How roadmaps allow greater efficiencies in how matters are staffed
  • Roadmaps vs. standardized forms - why roadmaps are superior for providing greater flexibility and safeguards
  • Substance vs. process - the difference between substantive roadmaps and procedural roadmaps, and why you need both
  • How to get started drafting roadmaps that will work for you
  • Using roadmaps as the starting point for a firm-wide efficiency program


Jack Bostelman  (moderator)
President of KM/JD Consulting LLC and Chair of ABA Knowledge Strategy Interest Group. Former partner of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP.  San Francisco

Thomas H. Kennedy
Partner, Global Head of Knowledge Strategy, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. New York

Daniel J. Siegel
Managing Partner, Law Offices of Daniel J. Siegel, LLC and Co-Author, Checklists for Lawyers (American Bar Association 2014). Havertown, PA

[Photo credit: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / JohanH]

About the Author

Jack Bostelman

Jack Bostelman is the president and principal consultant of KM/JD Consulting LLC. Before founding KM/JD Consulting, Jack practiced law in New York for 30 years as a partner of pre-eminent AmLaw 20 firm Sullivan & Cromwell.


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KM/JD Consulting LLC renders impartial practice management advice to law firms on improving efficiency, increasing profits and reducing risk, emphasizing knowledge strategy.

Jack Bostelman, President

Before founding KM/JD Consulting LLC, Jack practiced law in New York for 30 years as a partner of pre-eminent AmLaw 20 firm Sullivan & Cromwell.

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