You take comfort when you walk on to a plane that the flight crew always runs a printed checklist on every aspect of the flight and that most systems on the aircraft are duplicated. If you were awake, you might have heard the scrub or circulating nurse doing a sponge and instrument count before and after your surgery. These are routine and fundamental procedures in these professions.
With the number of claims and their severity on the rise against legal professionals, you might just wonder why we do so little check-listing. I often remind younger lawyers that spell-checking is not proofreading. Double-checking legal documents by proofreading seems to be a dying art.
A successful major insurer of law firms (Attorneys Liability Assurance Society, or ALAS) recently put on a training program featuring an engineer who was a pilot, and later became a medical doctor who then became an astronaut. Having retired from NASA, he does quality control for a large metropolitan hospital. His point was that we lawyers can control mistakes to a greater degree than other professional errors, and should utilize basic safety type checklists
with the fundamental communication read back. Every new pilot learns quickly to read back the controller’s direction to take heading 240° at 10,000 feet to avoid that simple little avoidable mistake of running into another aircraft at the wrong altitude and heading. The same basics apply to an itemized list of procedures, which as the surgeon Atul Gawande wrote, can “hold the odds of doing harm low enough for the odds of doing good to prevail.”
In a recent WSJ column, Jason Zweig argued that intelligent investors should consider doing the same standardization for basic investment decisions, and thereby reduce the risk of costly errors you have learned by past mistakes. He argues the biggest investment flaw comes from inconsistency which can be smoothed out to avoid making the same mistake again.
So, think with me here as to our profession. Would not real estate title research and opinions, business closings, legal research and litigation filings, estate planning and many other aspects of the practice make logical checklist items? My argument is that we can take control of the mill run mistake and narrow its occurrence by a simple read back of all essential and required steps on a checklist to get repeat legal tasks done.
See, Joseph T. Halliman, Why We Make Mistakes; and The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.