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Checklists for Paper Law

October 17, 2018

In her Motion to Organize weekly column, lawyer Jennifer Gumbel talks organization, productivity, and more.


Paper law doesn’t have the rush of trial law. In some matters, you don’t have the deadlines. In trial law, you have the court waiting for filings, the back and forth with opposing counsel, the looming trial all pushing you to call witnesses, research case law, and get prepared. Paper law, especially estate planning, doesn’t always have a firm deadline. We aren’t running around like the lawyers you see on TV.

It’s easy to see how checklists can help with trial matters, but they are also helpful for matters that don’t have pressing deadlines. Trial matters have outside pressures moving the file along like the other parties and the court. But a lot of files, like business and estate planning, don’t have those external pressures.

That lack of court pressure can blow our productivity. If we handle other types of matters that do have firm deadlines, these files can continually get pushed off as more pressing issues take our attention. That can harm our clients if we don’t have a system to document exactly what they need.

When I first started as a new lawyer, my planning files would inevitably fall to the back burner. It would be hard to go back to my notes and remember all of the nuance I gathered from the client interview. The solution? Checklists.

Now, I have checklists for my planning files. I list the different documents and actions that I create and take with these types of matters. In my first conference, as I’m meeting with the client, I check what needs to be done and add notes about how their needs differ so that I can easily reference when it’s time to tailor documents to them. Checklists also make it more likely I’ll sit down as soon as the conference is over to prepare the documents and have them ready in short order.

Checklists are a useful tool for more than litigation.

Motion to Organize

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