Another Reason for Lawyers To Create Checklists: Potential Revenue Stream

In the four years since the release of Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto, the topic of lawyer checklists has been making the rounds on the blogs and speaker circuits.  Which is good because checklists are a valuable tool that can help lawyers keep their practice running smoothly, stay out of trouble and explain the various steps of the legal process to a client to moderate expectations. But as the practice of law becomes increasingly dependent upon technology, there’s an even better reason for developing high-quality checklists that’s rarely mentioned: money.
Think about it. In many ways, mastering black-letter, substantive law is the easiest part of legal practice.  You scan a few treatises and law review articles to get the lay of the land, read the key cases and consult the blogs for recent developments.  Of course, there’s more to it than that; it can take time to master the subtleties and really understand the concepts, but my point is that substantive law is accessible.

By contrast, consider the mysteries of legal procedure.  Court rules are often opaque or a particular district may have a unique practice that isn’t well-known – and even when you understand them, there are usually a dozen steps needed to prepare documents to comply. Transactional matters have their own specific steps of rules and processes – such as running due diligence on a deal or compiling documents for corporate filings.  There is enormous value to clear, accurate and proven checklists for all of these steps.

Most of us don’t really appreciate the value of a good checklist, because as with many retainer agreements, many of the checklists available for free on-line are junk. But I believe that there’s a market for time-tested checklists – and in fact, I’m not the only one.  In some ways, a checklist is a crude form of a business method— which is still a patentable process that confers value and IP assets.

And while most law firm checklists won’t rise to the level of a patentable business method, a well-done checklist can still be a source of revenue. The Practical Law, a company started a few years back and quickly acquired by Thompson Reuters saw that value, and checklists one of the core features of its original offerings. Practical Law company is proof that lawyers are willing to pay for checklists both because they’re difficult to develop and because of the benefits they carry for lawyers.

Although Practical Law is targeted at large firms, there’s no reason that a similar model couldn’t work at price points and practice areas of interest to solos, thus providing a potential market for checklists.  Legal vendors are another potential market for checklists. For example, checklists can be automated or used to populate deadlines in a calendar or create folders in a practice management system.  A library of checklists that can easily be integrated in a practice management or billing system would be an added draw for users.

Even without third parties, lawyers can still extract value from checklists.  If you’ve developed a great or unique checklist or system, you can convert it into an ebook or offer it along with a webinar and sell it yourself.  And if you are nearing retirement and planning to sell your firm to a younger lawyer, checklists can make your firm more valuable to potential buyers.

So if you haven’t done so already, add “creating checklists” to your to do list for the coming year.



  1. shg on November 20, 2013 at 11:48 am

    You write that:

    Most of us don’t really appreciate the value of a good checklist, because as with many retainer agreements, many of the checklists available for free on-line are junk.

    Not having surveyed “most of us,” I can’t speak for the profession, but my experience is that “most of us” don’t use checklist for the same reason we don’t need to remind ourselves to breath or put one foot ahead of the other when we walk. If we care about what we do, and have a modicum of competence, they’re just not necessary.
    Of course, for those who get the foot thing all screwed up, checklists can help. But then it makes me wonder, should they be lawyers in the first place?

  2. Kimberly Alderman on November 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    That is an absurd comment. The book discusses how checklists are what enable the medical profession and the airline building and flying industry to accomplish insanely complex feet with The lowest possible margin of error. The book further shows how even routine tasks like washing one’s hands before performing surgery can be overlooked in the context of an intense situation. The book also shows how checklists remove complexity-based limitations, allowing you to go bro your operation, whatever kind of operation that might be. I don’t see why the practice of law would be an exception.

  3. Kimberly Alderman on November 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Ha ha, feet. Sorry, text to type.

  4. myshingle on November 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    You make a good point for individual lawyers. I am not inclined to use a list in most instances. But I think they are helpful for staff and associates. For example, I know all of the elements of a DC Circuit brief but that’s not always true for the people working with me. In the heat of getting a brief out the door, I might forget to ask whether something was included or overlook it and without a list, there’s no way for the underling to check. Plus, it is helpful to have a list of dates to calendar so that they pop up as reminders on my calendar. But no, I am not suggesting that lawyers arguing a case stand in front of a judge and tick through a checklist of arguments. Lists may be a crutch until a lawyer gains fluency but that adds value too.

  5. shg on November 20, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    Underlings? I got some of those once for my wife, but she said they didn’t fit.

  6. shg on November 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    “I don’t see why the practice of law would be an exception.”
    That’s not an argument. I trust you’re not a lawyer. Please.
    By the way, the next time you need surgery, ask your surgeon whether she goes to a book for a checklist on how to wash her hands. If she says “yes,” find another surgeon.

  7. Kimberly Alderman on November 21, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    You should consider reading the book that you are disagreeing with. It’s well worth the time, although more targeted toward open minded folks interested in personal and professional growth. Something to think about!

  8. Ansel Halliburton on December 2, 2013 at 2:56 am

    More lawyers need to read The Checklist Manifesto—and take it to heart. It’s remarkably easy for things to slip through cracks in our profession, and checklists help a lot.

    My implementation at my firm is in Asana, which is a fantastic SaaS tool for project management. We keep checklists updated in there, and when it’s time to use one, we copy it into a case. Every task on the list is assignable to someone on the team, and can be checked off as soon as it’s done. This is no magic bullet, though: the hard work is actually generating the checklists, and having a culture of using them.

  9. Robert Jennings on January 26, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    What about using checklists for new staff and paralegals? I can certainly see the value of checklists in law firms.

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