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Checklists – Your best friend and worst enemy

Two people using pens to point at paper on a desk

We lawyers love a checklist. They order our transactions and keep everyone on the same page. But, while they can be our best friend, they can also be our worst enemy (think of the time spent formatting it or trying to find the most up-to-date version…).

A checklist may feel insignificant (especially compared to important legal documents). We get that. But you generally need one for each deal. And you, or your trainee, often spend a lot of time creating and managing it.

So here are three tips to make the process a little easier and simpler.

Tip 1 – Summarise what needs to be done

We know it’s tempting to simply copy directly from the agreement, and then tick off each clause as it is completed. But legal text (especially definitions) can be difficult to read at a glance. And often multiple obligations are satisfied by one document (usually board resolutions/director certificates).

To keep your checklist shorter, and easier to manage, it can help to:

  • convert the legal text to plain English; and
  • use the reference column to refer to multiple obligations that are satisfied by one document (and so you can find the legal text if needed).


Summary screenshot before


Summary screenshot after

Tip 2 – Limit your formatting by using headers

The more formatting in your list, the more formatting work you have to do, such as aligning bullets, indenting text, and merging/splitting cells.

Headers can be a great way to limit your formatting work. They also help to group related items and quickly show how a part of your transaction is proceeding. Use them judiciously!


Headers screenshot after


Headers screenshot before

Tip 3 – Have one person manage the checklist

Finding the latest version of the checklist isn’t always easy in document management systems. This becomes even harder when both sets of lawyers are:

  • drafting edits to the checklist;
  • sending it back-and-forth like a legal document (complete with track changes); and
  • saving each version into their document management system.

I always found that having one person responsible for updating the checklist makes the process simpler. In particular, it helps to:

  • reduce the risk of the checklist “branching” into multiple different versions;
  • limit, and even eliminate, the back-and-forth of the checklist;
  • make it easier to find the latest version (you just look for that person’s latest email).

This lets each set of lawyers focus on the legal documents and ensures the checklist is always up-to-date.

Extra tip – use a digital platform

Word is great for drafting contracts. But it isn’t great as a project management tool – last we checked, it couldn’t filter or sort a table. Specifically, you can’t track your documents with your list (unless you embed your documents, which we don’t recommend).

It also creates a few of the issues set out above (eg the checklist “branching” into multiple versions and formatting problems).

So look into running your transaction on a digital platform. This could be a dedicated transaction management platform (like Legatics), or one of the many project management tools out there (eg Asana, ClickUp,

Either way, you will benefit from taking your transaction out of Word and into the digital future.