As bankruptcy lawyers, we don’t usually face the life and death situations that doctors do, but we do take our client’s financial lives in our hands. For their sakes, and ours, we want to get it right. Which is why I found Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto compelling. The premise of the book is that no matter how expert you may be, well-designed check lists can improve outcomes.
Gawande, a surgeon and Harvard medical school instructor, developed a short, pre surgery checklist that, when used in hospitals both primitive and advanced, cut the patient death rate by up to 40%.
His project for the World Health Organization showed that improved outcomes were not so much tied to technology as to attention to basics and taking a moment to think about the task: did they have the correct patient? the tools and meds that might be needed? did each member of the team know the role of other team members?
Not rocket science is it? And if it works for surgical teams, it will work for bankruptcy lawyers.
I use a couple of checklists, some mental and some written, in preparing bankruptcy petitions. Going forward, I’m committed to polishing my lists and seeing that we use them routinely. What the checklist does is force the systematic consideration of a list of basics, such as:
- Does the debtor’s address match the district and division listed on the petition
- If there are aliases or business names on the petition, are there corresponding entries on the SOFA
- If debtor intends to reaffirm a car loan, is there sufficient money in the I and J budget
- If it’s a 13, does the summary of schedules show debt within the limits
Checklists can also be teaching tools for staff.
It’s never too early in a bankruptcy practice to develop systems. Your checklists will grow and develop as the practice and your client base grows. Take to heart Jay Fleischman’s questions about whether a procedure will “scale”: will it be equally useful when the case load doubles, or triples? Checklists scale.