Two very wise articles, entitled “Keeping errors in check”, by John Kunzler, and by Alistair Sim (The Journal, March and April 2013, respectively) advocating the use of checklists in legal practice are welcome and timely. Timely indeed, because it is my belief that, in recent years, a number of legal and other practitioners would not have found themselves indicted before disciplinary tribunals if they had adopted and adhered to an appropriate checklist.
Checklists may be used in order to either check that all the items on a list are as these should be at a given point in time, or are being dealt with in the correct sequence. The pre-flight checklist, the appropriate adaptation of the WHO surgical safety checklist, and the MOT tester’s checklist are common examples of the former; the Army’s bomb disposal checklist, the construction project manager’s checklist, and the Citizens Advice Bureau’s “Preparing for the court hearing” checklist are common examples of the latter.
The usefulness of checklists in compensating for the inherent human frailty of forgetfulness is surely undeniable.
Published checklists have regained popularity in England & Wales in line with the present-day proliferation in the intricacies and strictness of the rules of court in those jurisdictions. However, the Law Society of Scotland has been, as usual, ahead of the game in recognising the great value of checklists long before their use became indispensable, and indeed mandatory, in the cockpit and in the operating theatre.
In the 1970s in particular, the Law Society of Scotland published a series of really useful checklists for practitioners’ use. In those days, I used to attach a copy of the relevant checklist inside the front cover of every client file. I would recommend that this is a practice which still ought to be adopted in even seemingly straightforward cases – and not only in labyrinthine M&A deals! Moreover, a checklist should also be prefaced to each computerised case record, and it is not at all challenging to program one’s computers to automatically disallow the input of non-sequential entries of data.
What is more, it is indeed gratifying that, to this day, the Law Society of Scotland continues its invaluable service to the legal profession with, for example, the publication of the CML Handbook compliance checklist.
Lastly, Alistair Sim’s exhortation to ensure that all checklists in use are constantly maintained up to date is especially to be borne in mind.George Lawrence Allen, solicitor, formerly advocate, Edinburgh