Legal process mapping as a first step to innovation
Although there is still a high degree of personalization in some circumstances, most legal services could be viewed and operated as processes.
And a large part of maximizing law firm’s team productivity and meeting clients’ needs depends on how smooth and straightforward your processes are.
However, in legal service contexts, processes are rarely visible as we provide non “physical” outcomes. On the contrary, it will be effortless, for example, to enter into a shoe factory and observe the production chain: here, the process is visible, tangible. However, when you enter a law firm or an in-house legal department, you cannot visualize what is going on exactly as most of the job being done is intellectual.
There is where process mapping comes in.
What is legal process mapping?
We can define legal process mapping as a visual representation of every step, touch, task, person, and resource used to get a standard legal output.
A well-prepared map should show:
- what lawyers do;
- how they do it;
- how they interact with other employees (paralegal, administrative) and processes;
- and how the above flows.
Legal process mapping can be beneficial, both for internal purposes and from the client’s perspective.
Optimize your internal practices
Process mapping is an interactive process that helps to identify anomalies such as rework loops, bottlenecks, misallocation of resources, actions that don’t add value from the client’s perspective, and other forms of waste that short-circuit the progress of your work.
The aim here is to implement sustainable solutions that optimize processes by reducing errors and waste and increasing quality and productivity.
The visual tool (the map) identifies inefficiencies in the workflow and serves as a baseline for improvements.
Not everything will be relevant when inspecting how you create value for your client.
But, there are some red flags that you should not miss.
What to pay attention to while creating and analyzing the map of your processes?
Here are some examples:
- disorganized distribution of case information or materials;
- ineffective storage and retrieval of files (both hard copy/paper and electronic);
- poor trans-department communication;
- tasks assigned to inappropriate levels of expertise (like non-outsourcing some tasks to junior lawyers which result in a waste of much more valuable time of senior lawyers);
- poor communication with clients.
To ensure you do not waste time, you should examine if there are no cultural barriers to process improvement in your firm. If there are, you should first focus on changing a firm mindset.
Subsequently, keep in mind that processes (and therefore maps) are not permanent. At the same time, they should be a tool for promoting your firm’s internal agility.
Therefore it is crucial to observe and review progress towards stated goals.
Also, be patient and proactive.
If the expected improvements are not materializing fast enough or do not have the planned effect, you should adjust your processes. You can do so by adapting your processes to organizational changes or the scheduled implementation of new tools/technologies.
It will then be critical to creating a culture of constant improvement.
A quick-win pilot project could be to create diagrams to highlight Paralegals’ duties and using it to optimize their onboarding process.
Let your clients be a part of it.
Do not forget that the end beneficiary of the mapping is the client.
It would help if you avoid your process mapping becoming inward-looking. You should lead the clients through the maps and ask how you can improve things even further.
This client-focus approach can help create blended or client-specific processes/maps. Specific maps can then reflect clients’ service level requirements.
Seeing how you are working on their matters, your clients can point out your work's specific steps as crucial for them, even if it does not provide the deliverable result or is not the final product.
Associated with legal design, mapping a legal process can also have a pedagogic purpose. You can use it to explain how exactly you are proceeding.
Clients often feel lost because they don’t know what to expect when they hire a law firm. They don’t know what’s going to happen, their responsibilities, or when numerous steps take place, what the effects might be – in other words, they don’t know the processes used by the law firm.
Let’s take the example of the journey to a judgment. When a client works for the first time with a law firm, he may expect a straightforward process to get to a decision. However, there might be quite a few steps you need your client to be aware of. A flowchart that plans the trial process steps can help you prepare your client for what’s to expect.
A good start for your digital transformation journey
Working on mapping your processes can also allow executives to identify which activities are ripe for automation or digitalization. The end goal is, as mentioned above, to enable lawyers to spend more time with their clients.
However, you must be careful not to rush into the implementation of new technologies.
Indeed, as indicated above, maps are bound to evolve, especially in the beginning.
Therefore, it is essential to be sure that you have succeeded in optimizing reliable processes that will be sustainable over time unless there are radical changes.
Investing in a new tool to optimize a process that will be completely overhauled or even abandoned a few months later will multiply the losses (time, energy, and motivation).
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency.
The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.
A good practice is to classify each branch and leaves in your maps to sort the tasks within your processes.
Using hashtags or categories here can be helpful.
Then, suppose within the processes you identify, thanks to your maps, a high volume of “analyzing” tasks engaging many of your staff. In that case, you can evaluate the cost of the time spent on analyzing vast amounts of documentation.
What to then? Start looking for a document analysis tool!