Process design and mapping 101 for lawyers

1. What is process design?

Process design is the activity which shapes the form of the services that a law firm delivers to its clients, in accordance with their strategy, and the process that produces them.

2. What is process mapping?

Process mapping is the pictorial depiction of the process design.  It shows the relationships and inter-dependencies between activities in a process, including responsibility for/ownership of activities and potentially also their duration.

3. Why does a lawyer need to know about process mapping?

Process mapping can help all industries meet the needs of their customers in the most appropriate, efficient manner, balancing quality, speed, dependability, flexibility and cost.

Process mapping can help lawyers manage their legal matters in the manner which best meets their clients’ needs.  It can also help them to manage their internal processes (i.e. billing and anti-money-laundering procedures) in an efficient, cost-effective way.

With considerable pressure on the legal profession at this time, process mapping can provide a useful method by which lawyers can analyse how they deliver legal advice to clients, to ensure that they are giving their clients best value, minimising waste and maximizing efficiency.

Process mapping is not just for “Tesco Law” or “big deals”.  It can help all law firms make themselves more attractive to clients, more efficient and more profitable.  It can also mitigate for fee earners some of the irritations and frustrations involved in the non-chargeable administration of matters.

4. Where do I start?

A process (such as investigating the evidence to Letter of Claim stage in a civil claim, the administration behind billing clients or anti-money-laundering and file opening procedures) can be broken down into individual activities.  There are common symbols which are often used to describe each type of activity (e.g. a diamond for a decision point,  a half circle for a delay whilst a part (perhaps an expert’s report) is awaited).  These symbols are placed in sequence and can then be more easily analysed for improvements.

5. What do I do then?

Once you have mapped your processes, you should have a clear picture of your matter management.  This should make seeing improvements and efficiencies far easier, e.g. why does that bill pass through four people’s hands and get two types of sign-off before it gets sent to the client?  Sometimes there are good reasons for double checks, but sometimes an inefficient procedure has just evolved.

Taking time out to ask “How do I do this?” naturally encourages you to ask “How can I do this better?”.

6. But isn’t this time-consuming and  expensive?

This does take time.  If a process map is to be correct and an improved process is to work with, not against, a firm’s culture, then this mapping and analysis is best done by fee earners (with advice from experts) rather than imposed from on-high.  This obviously takes fee earners away from earning fees.  However, the benefits are improved risk management, better productivity, enabling “unbundling”, “self-service” and profitable fixed fees, and frees up expensive lawyers to concentrate on advising, using their valuable knowledge for their client’s benefit, rather than unnecessary administration.

7. Do I need to buy special software?

There are plenty of IT solutions available if you have the budget, but if you don’t, or if you are a sole fee earner who simply wishes to improve their own matter management, or a PSL who wants to offer fee earners improved workflows, there is plenty that you can do without it.  This business approach relies on taking time to understand what is happening within the existing process and what could be done better, so it could be done with a whiteboard and pen (or a big piece of paper).

8. I’m a fee earner, how will this affect my job?

Process mapping, along with legal project management and, to a lesser extent KM, has a poor reputation with some lawyers, who fear that it is about dumbing their job down and perhaps offshoring it.  In fact, most lawyers would admit that there are administrative processes that irritate them and stop them focussing on billable work and their project management isn’t always perfect.  Most lawyers naturally do a certain amount of process design, but in an ad hoc manner with little formal training in the field.

Process mapping is about enabling fee earners to concentrate their time and effort on giving valuable advice and help to their client, rather than wasting that precious time on juggling  matters inefficiently.

9. What can I do now? Where can I learn more?

Things to read –

Training events –

  • “KM: The Works” – a day-long training session in London covering all the foundations of law firm KM including process and project management – useful for new KMers, lawyers and information professionals.
  • I also offer in-house bespoke training to law firms, so you can book me to teach your lawyers and KMers about this – have a look at the “Work with me” page.

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