Leading Japanese manufacturers are famous for letting any worker stop the assembly to correct a quality problem. Can lawyers say the same? 

I’ve been in automotive assembly plants and know that emergency stop buttons are critical safety features. It can also be a critical quality feature. Large law firm ethos discourages challenging authority. Lower ranking lawyers loath hitting the e-stop equivalent.

Yet e-stops have clear benefits. In hospitals, they saves lives. In Hospitals, Simple Reminders Reduce Deadly Infections (NY Times, 19 May 2008) describes – once again – how the use of simple checklists saves patient lives:

““Timeout!” a first-year resident called, as the medical team… was about to insert a catheter into the woman’s jugular vein. Then he reminded everyone to wash their hands. Timeouts to wash hands and put on hairnets, a simple checklist to ensure that such seemingly obvious precautions are done, and advertising campaigns directed at everyone from the most senior doctors to the poorest of patients have been credited with drastically reducing the number of serious infections at New York City’s public hospitals.” [emphasis added]

Lawyers have no easy equivalent. We should. When you see a lawyer create a document database in Word, hit e-stop. When you see a lawyer about to send a document without scrubbing the meta-data first, hit e-stop. When a lawyer wants to review produced e-mail in Outlook, hit e-stop. You get the idea.

Lawyers time-outs and e-stops require cultural changes. Furthermore, it will require that bar regulators not condone shoddy practices, protecting those who should have but failed to hit e-stop. Taking the High Road With Metadata (New York Law Journal, 13 Dec 2007) reports on how various jurisdictions rule on permissible use of metadata inadvertently sent by opposing counsel. To achieve best practices – to encourage a culture of timeouts – bar regulators need uniformly to put the burden on lawyers to act correctly in the first instance. Sadly, many jurisdictions encourage lax practices; the equivalent of ignoring easily stopped deadly infections. That parts of the profession condone bad behavior for something so simply changed suggests a long road to the ubiquitous timeout or e-stop.