The Power of a Checklist

Recently, I had the pleasure of a great conversation with Chapter 13 Trustee, Thomas McDonald, from the EDMI. As it turns out, we have both been pilots for a long time. Once we came to this realization, our conversation quickly devolved from the issues confronting the bankruptcy industry to talk of density altitude, mountain flying, and the importance of using checklists.

As our conversation progressed, I could not help but notice that we both felt that learning to fly and following the many procedures and rules over the years had provided a definite benefit to how we approached and ran our unique operations. Certainly, the business model for a 13 trusteeship is different from a bankruptcy noticing services company, but this didn’t change the fact that we both found checklists to be an invaluable resource. While we might be flying two different kinds of airplanes, the use of a checklist for each is still applicable.

The first checklist came about in 1935, after a Boeing Model 299 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all aboard. While Congress was ready to scrap the entire project fearing that the aircraft was not flight worthy, an investigation into the crash revealed that the elevator flight control clamp had not been removed prior to takeoff. The solution to this problem? A preflight checklist that would ensure that all the necessary steps were taken before the plane left the ground. In hindsight, this seems perfectly obvious.

When flying, there are checklists for everything. From the first moment you approach the airplane to closing the hangar door after a flight, there is a checklist to make sure that you repeat the process exactly the same way every time. Consistency breeds success. Here is a typical list for a successful flight.

Preflight Inspection CL
Engine Start CL
Taxi and Run Up CL
Takeoff and Initial Climb CL
Cruise Flight CL
Descent and Landing CL
Engine Shutdown CL

Checklists aren’t just for when things are going well either. Got a landing gear that is not coming down? A radio that is on the fritz? There are checklists for those as well. In short, there is always a checklist available, during standard operations, or emergency operations, that will allow the plane to land safely. The same idea holds just as well for your own business practice.

The point of any checklist is to provide a way of overseeing a task or project to ensure that nothing is forgotten during the execution of that process. A checklist is not a ‘to-do’ list. It is a list of the steps that are necessary to effectively complete a repetitive task, such as serving your documents under Rule 7004, or managing the monthly distribution to the unsecured creditor class for a particular case. Using a checklist doesn’t tell you ‘what’ to do. It tells you ‘how’ to do it.

This is why checklists have such an incredible application in business, the practice of law, and especially, the practice of bankruptcy. Creating standardized checklists to manage our business operations allows for an easy way to remain organized. When we work in an organized fashion, using a checklist, we create repetition and repetition creates consistency. When staff actions are consistent, success follows. When your staff is successful, you will also be successful!

As we begin to see the light at the end of this long dark pandemic tunnel, now is the perfect time to sit down with your staff and create your own series of checklists. Without a doubt you have a series of tasks that are repeated over and over again in every case file that you open. From screening to initial phone call, to first client interview, to pre-filing review, to 341 meeting, to discharge notice… You get the idea. Each one of those repetitive steps is ripe for a checklist to create organizational consistency.

The best thing about checklists? They can be modified over time to add new steps in that weren’t required previously. No more having to recreate the wheel in each case, you can simply add another step to the standardized process. Has your client just been served with an adversary proceeding? There is a whole set of tasks that now have to be completed, all in a timely manner. A checklist will keep that level of panic in check and give you and your staff a way to easily deal with the contested proceeding.

Lest you think that checklists are not valuable tools, consider this. The Boeing aircraft Model 299 that was on the chopping block, became the B-17 Flying Fortress during WWII. This is the aircraft that was the backbone of bombing missions in the European theatre by both the USAF and the RAF. Tens of thousands of hours of flying time helped turn the tide in the European and Pacific Theatre. As General Carl Spaatz once opined, “Without the B-17, we would have lost the war.”

High praise indeed for what a simple checklist can do.

CEO, (Pasco, WA)

Jay S. Jump, is a consumer debtor bankruptcy attorney and the CEO of, the premiere mailing service for all practitioners in the bankruptcy industry, from debtor and creditor attorneys to Panel Trustees to Chapter 13 Trustees to the United States Trustee Program. is the trusted name in bankruptcy noticing services.

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