The Checklist

The simplest tool for legal operations excellence

5 minutes • 02 Apr 20


A checklist is a potent knowledge technology that is drastically under-utilised by the legal industry. At a time when more must be done better with less – it’s time to revisit the role of the checklist.

In this legal operations white paper, we examine why checklists are not being used enough by the legal profession, what a good checklist looks like and what benefits it can bring to your in house legal team.


Whilst it is true that the court room instincts of a litigator or a seasoned negotiator take time to hone… and that a sliver of aged grey hair can work magic – the reality is that much of lawyering simply entails:

  • spotting, mitigating and addressing issues that cause problems; and/or
  • following procedures, typically for similar types of transactions/projects/cases.

Today, knowledge and experience can be readily captured, arranged and retrieved on a global basis instantaneously, including via software, at costs that are bordering on negligible.

Simply put, massive amounts of knowledge and experience can actually be captured in tool-based repositories such as simple checklists and be made available to everyone.

So, why then doesn't the average in-house lawyer ("IHL") make much better use of the humble checklist? Is it due to:

  • lawyers traditionally being reluctant to systematically reduce their art to process?
  • IHLs being too busy to stop and prepare them?
  • a cultural hangover from private practice days - where the “to death do us part” love affair with billable hours shunned efficiency initiatives?

Nonetheless, checklists are a fundamental aspect of efficient legal operations - perhaps being the single most potent driver of workflow automation and process quality control.


"Most lawyers, whether they are conscious about it or not, have mental checklists they follow… and by shifting the paradigm from art and craft to process, we can improve quality, efficiency and results.” - Francisco Ramos Jnr.

Hand holding light bulb on dark background, new idea concept

The benefits of a checklist are innumerable and include:

  • Memory - it’s easy for us to forget things – checklists prevent that from happening
  • Aggregate Wisdom - a well-maintained checklist aggregates your IHLs' experience/capabilities
  • Leverage - junior members can replicate the issue spotting capabilities of senior team members
  • Quality Assurance - checklists are the dutiful servants of essential Quality Assurances
  • Compliance - checking off what is required makes it easy to identify non-compliance issues
  • Time - you can get through tasks far quicker – freeing up more time for strategic matters
  • Delegation - a strong checklist and a teammate with common sense makes delegation easier
  • Consistency - checklists raise the level of legal performance on a far more consistent basis
  • Empowerment - team members have the tools to keep things moving forward
  • Standards - checklists allow you to define a single improving standard for your IHL team
  • Automation - checklists/points drive workflows through a “pass and proceed” methodology


"We have to do a lot of thinking as lawyers. Anything that frees us from having to think about something makes our lives better and us more productive."  Tim Green

As you can see from the above list of benefits, the humble checklist can deliver an exponential boost to any IHL's operational agenda – driving time task efficiency and leveraging quality assurance.

Implementing checklists in a slightly more comprehensive and systematic way into a legal function is a much easier undertaking than many other transformation projects, making them a critical first step.

The simple paradigm shift required for you to harness the power of checklist to underpinning perpetually improving legal operations is easy – you simply need to start to reduce:

Practice to Process and Process to a Checklist

If the medical industry can reduce something as complex and as high stakes as heart surgery into a series of checklists – a legal function can certainly create checklist(s) around common support constructs.

Again - IHLs benefit tremendously when they inculcate a "checklist culture" into their daily operations. It costs nothing but time to prepare one – and that time is infinitely repaid going forward.

Here are the Top 10 Features of a quality checklist to help you to start preparing your own world class checklists:

  • Author - they are prepared by people that know the task comprehensively
  • Complete - all issues that should be included must be included
  • Order - issue orders must flow logically
  • Scope - it should not contain matters that don’t need to be checked
  • Short - a checklist should be as short as possible
  • Usability - they must be super easy to use
  • Aggregate - the broadest possible range of experience you can access
  • Maintained - things change – including the issues of the day, their importance and how to respond
  • User - checklist must be designed for the specific user (e.g is the user an IHL or non-legal?)
  • Tested - you should regularly test how your checklist performs


As with most things, you could take the principles contained in this whitepaper and produce a checklist for yourself. The problem with that, however, is that you may not have the time nor the expertise to do so.

As always, GLS can help to shift many aspects of legal operations away from the less reliable “art of lawyering" towards a more reliable “process” based approach that drives performance and consistency.

We have a wide selection of checklists based upon:

  • Agreements: common commercial agreements (including our Top 10 Legal Docs - The Work Horses)
  • Transactions: basic transaction type activities (e.g. due diligence)
  • Compliance: a selection of key compliance topics ( privacy)

Indeed, we are in the process of building the world’s largest library of legal checklists as their role in underpinning effective legal operations is critical. 


Click here, if you want to see what checklists we have available.