Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism all agree: it’s easy to miss the details when you’re focusing on something important.

That’s why they all have their own form of prayer beads so the faithful don’t lose count of their mantras.

Science and medicine agree: you can save lives with checklists. You can even land airplanes on water. As Captain Sully says,

If you think you’re infallible, you’re kidding yourself.

Hence checklists.

Here’s the first item on the litigator’s checklist:

  1. Did you check the rules?

That includes the federal or state rules of civil procedure, the local rules for the venue, and the judge’s own procedures.

I do that before filing every motion and upon receiving every motion. It’s repetitive, in a good way: the rules are the mantra.

Count the prayer beads.

Check the checklist.

Every time.

Yesterday I received a call from defense counsel in one of my cases:

Since the judge requires a phone conference prior to the filing of a motion to compel, will you agree to withdraw your motion and set up the phone conference instead?

Really? I checked the judge’s procedures before filing.

So I checked them again: no requirement for a phone conference. I emailed a copy to the defense lawyer asking him to show me where it said the judge needed a phone conference.

A few hours later, another call:

You have a copy of the judge’s old procedures. He updated them in November. Take a look on the court’s website.

So I did.

Sure enough, between the time I filed the case — when I downloaded a copy of the judge’s procedures and saved them in the case file — and the time I filed the motion, the judge changed them.

Just goes to show that you can make a mistake even without taking a shortcut, even if you have "a little local knowledge."

Check the checklist, and check to make sure you’re using the right checklist.

Every time.