Inside Counsel and lawyers in private practice both value strong, effective relationships with one another. Ask any lawyer on either “side of the fence” what creates the most stress on these relationships and you’re likely to get the same answer: cost. Inside counsel open their bills for legal services with great trepidation, while the lawyers who send those bills often find themselves thinking “he/she’s not going to like this.”
The pressure is on both sides. It’s no secret that lawyers in private practice are expected to meet annual billable hour goals. Inside counsel are under tremendous pressure from boards of directors, CEOs and company leadership to keep spending on legal services as low as possible. The pressure is on for everyone involved. And neither side likes it.
Too often, the costs of legal services could be reduced if inside counsel and the lawyers they hired operated more efficiently, and in turn, more cost-effectively. One of the most frequently occurring causes of inefficiencies is when inside counsel fail to provide the complete documentation their outside counsel need to handle a matter, or when those outside counsel fail to clearly request precisely the information they need.
The result is unnecessary and inefficient back and forth between inside counsel and the lawyer or lawyers they’ve hired. The inside counsel end up believing the matter they’ve hired a lawyer to resolve is never going to go away, while that lawyer is frustrated by the “stop and start” nature of work on that matter. Both sides end up dealing with unnecessary interruptions, longer times lines and greater difficulty in getting solid legal work accomplished.
And no one wants any of that.
But there is a time-tested tool that can address the problem: the checklist. A checklist is a tool that is fundamental and simplistic, but often overlooked or forgotten. Developing and using a detailed, clear and complete checklist at the outset of handling a matter ensures that when a lawyer starts to work on a given matter, she or he will have everything necessary to complete the work. In turn, inside counsel won’t be asked continually to supply more documentation or information. These checklists vary from one area of law to another.
For example, when seeking outside counsel assistance to collect an accounts receivable or assert a claim in a bankruptcy case, a checklist may include the account history, the account balance, the contract between the parties in support of the debt, information about any collateral and documents perfecting a lien interest in that collateral. A basic collection checklist would include the following:
- Debt Instrument
- Chain of Title Documents, i.e., assignments, alonge, transfers, etc.
- Security Agreement
- Deed of Trust/Mortgage
- Perfection documents, i.e., Certificate of Title, UCC-1 Financing Statements, Recorded Deed/Mortgage, etc.
- UCC Searches
- Debtor contact information, place of employment, bank accounts, social security number
- Account history/balance
- Valuation of collateral, i.e., NADA, Appraisals, etc.
- Current Location of Collateral
- Environmental reports or information
- Junior lienholder information
If the matter involves defense of a lawsuit, the checklist may include information about the parties, the narrative of the facts by the person most familiar with the incident, a timeline of the events, documents in support of the position. Regardless of the matter, having a clear understanding of what is required to tackle the issue, will save both inside and outside counsel, time energy and money. A defense litigation checklist would include:
- Copy of all documents served, i.e., petition or complaint, summons, exhibits, etc.
- Date of service and upon whom
- List of all parties (and their contact information) who may have information about the subject of the lawsuit
- Documentation in support of any defense to the litigation, i.e., contract, correspondence, account history, etc.
- Narrative from any person with knowledge of the subject of the lawsuit
- Information regarding any insurance, if applicable
Certainly, checklists will – and should be optimized to meet the needs of the particular matter. But in nearly all cases, a well thought-out checklist will support better client/attorney communication, enhance efficiency, reduce wasted effort on both sides of the relationship and often lead to better results and lower costs.
Sharon Stolte is Managing Attorney for the Kansas City, Missouri office of Sandberg Phoenix & von Gontard, P.C. She has served as the Director of the Kansas City Bankruptcy Bar, as the Vice Chair of the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association Commercial & Bankruptcy Law Committee and as an Officer for the Former Workout Professional Organization. Sharon also currently serves as a member of the International Women’s Insolvency and Restructuring Confederation, the American Bankruptcy Institute, the American Bar Association, the Johnson County Bar Association and as a director with the Turnaround Management Association, Midwest Chapter.
She can be reached at 816-627-5543 or [email protected]