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