Research has shown that checklists improve consistency and reduce the likelihood that critical steps are overlooked in technical fields such as aeronautics and medicine. The current study explores whether similar tools might promote the consistency and quality of legal representation among often overburdened and under-resourced public defense attorneys.
With funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office piloted ten checklists, providing attorneys with guidelines and process reminders across critical points as cases make their way through the system (e.g, initial client meetings, pre-trial motions and hearings, bail motions, and eyewitness interviews). The following themes emerged from the evaluation:
- Overall, participating attorneys liked the idea of checklists and believed they increased their own confidence and consistency of treatment between clients.
- Attorneys found only a few of the checklists useful to them and generally held the extra work the lists created to be more burdensome than beneficial.
- Abbreviated and online tools might be more useful to their daily work, many of the attorneys suggested; they further recommended that the lists could prove valuable to less experienced support staff, such as paralegals, investigators, or legal interns.
- Attorneys stressed the importance of tailoring checklists to the needs of the local jurisdiction.
The final checklists created by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office are public domain and can be requested here.