The Dangers of Forms and Checklists

Here is a hypothetical attorney-client interaction:

Client:  I called because we are planning to eliminate a couple of positions.  We have decided which positions to eliminate and want to move forward as soon as possible.

Attorney:  I’m happy to help.  Let’s discuss your decision making process, who has been selected for elimination and what needs to be done next.

Client:  Actually, I was hoping you could just send over some form severance agreements and maybe a checklist of things we need to do in this kind of situation.

I bet this sounds familiar.  I’ve had conversations like this many times and they can be stressful for a couple of reasons.  First, if the attorney resists the request, the client may think he or she just wants to charge time for filling in forms; a charge that could be easily avoided by letting the client do it.  Second, if the attorney agrees and hands over form documents, there is always the concern that the client will not use them properly or fail to spot the issues not covered by a standard form or checklist.

Based on the second concern, I think that using forms without consultation or analysis is almost always a bad idea.  This goes for attorneys as well as clients.  Some attorneys, especially inexperienced attorneys, rely too heavily on form documents.  Clients looking to save on legal fees often engage in the above conversation with their attorneys or worse yet, recycle old documents or find forms on the internet.  The problem with all of these approaches is that there is no substitute for actually analyzing a situation to spot and manage the issues. 

I am not suggesting that forms and checklists should never be used, nor am I advocating for attorneys charging clients to reinvent the wheel every time they address an issue.  Using forms and checklists can save the client time and money on the finished product but they can never be a substitute for sound legal analysis.  Blindly relying on forms is a recipe for disaster that can expose an employer to liability well beyond the legal fees supposedly saved by skipping a consultation with an attorney. 

Let me know if you agree.  You'll find a link to my email at the CONTACT line below.



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