You have been made responsible for the delivery of a legal process improvement initiative in…
Legal Process Improvement is defined by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) as
A structured methodology for optimizing legal and business processes, so that legal professionals can deliver high-quality, cost-effective services in less time and with less effort.
Process Maps are often a central part of a structured approach to legal process improvement.
I have always liked process maps because they are a visual way of bringing issues into the open.
In this article, I explain how I create legal process maps. I hope it will give those of you with little experience of legal process mapping the confidence to begin creating your own legal process maps.
Step 1: Identify the legal process to be mapped
The first step can sometimes be the hardest to take.
Often when looking at processes they can seem to flow from one to another so much that it’s difficult to determine where one process starts and another stops.
However, you must determine the scope of the process under investigation and then define where the process under study starts and ends.
You are looking for a couple of events: one event which starts the process and another event which ends it. This gives you your process scope. It is this process you will map.
If you don’t do this initial scoping you are likely to end up with a large and unmanageable process mapping exercise.
Step 2: Research the practice area and standard processes within it
Once the process to be mapped has been identified, I then do some research about the process concerned.
For legal processes, I do some research about the practice area in question. Not the black letter law, but the processes widely used and recommended to follow in each practice area. Many processes are compulsory anyway – think of the civil litigation process and the Civil Procedure Rules (CPRs) for example – and there is often a lot of material available publicly from trusted sources about the practice area and the standard processes within it.
I should point out that I am a non-practising solicitor, and I have spent a lifetime working in the legal services industry, including most of my 20s working as a legal academic – so legal research is second nature to me.
Another thing I like to do is see if anyone has attempted the map the process before.
The idea and practice of process improvement has been known in legal services for a long time (I can remember doing legal process mapping almost 25 years ago). Perhaps someone else has already looked at the process you will map. If so, great – you might have notes to read and possibly even maps to view. It’s interesting to find out why an earlier attempt at improving the process did not succeed as much as hoped for. There are likely to be valuable lessons for you to learn and apply here.
I also like to have informal conversations with some stakeholders working in the process to be mapped as they can give some immediate feedback about how well the process is working now.
All this research gives me a feel for the process and lets me start drafting my own high level map (see step 3 below).
Step 3: Create a draft process map
Outside of legal services the most common way of creating process maps is to start with a blank piece of paper (or perhaps a blank wall – see below) and then ask people working in a process to explain what they do and how they do it. This gets recorded and the process map is built up gradually.
In my experience, when working with lawyers it is better to present them with a draft map, rather than a ‘blank page’, to begin with. Other legal process mappers have told me their experience is the same.
It is much easier, and more productive, to get lawyers to criticize a draft process map than it is to ask them to take you through a process they are familiar with from a ‘blank page’ start.
Another point about presenting lawyers with a draft process map is that they can see that you have already put in some effort, which helps establish your credibility with them at the outset.
It should also save some time, as it can be quicker to amend an existing map than create one from scratch.
Saving time is important. Inevitably any time practicing lawyers spend helping with process mapping exercises will be ‘non-chargeable time’ and no-one likes this. You need to help focus your most valuable resources (i.e. practicing lawyers) so you can get as much done in the time you have working with them.
To avoid doubt, I am not saying I impose my view of the process, via my draft map, onto people working in that process. What I am saying is that people (and especially lawyers) find it easier to criticize a draft map than being presented with a blank slate and asked to explain what they do. Using the draft map, I am still seeking explanations about how things work and I don’t mind re-working my draft map reflecting the information received from the mapping team.
Step 4: Assemble the mapping team
Unlike manufacturing processes, it’s impossible to physically see legal processes in action. This is why legal process mapping is done in process mapping workshops.
In the workshops there should be representatives of each kind of stakeholder active in the process being mapped.
Depending on the process under investigation you may therefore need to have a partner, an associate (or perhaps two – a junior and senior), paralegals, professional support lawyers and, probably, representatives from other departments such as Finance and I.T.
Collectively, these are your mapping team. They will not be responsible for producing the maps, but they will provide all the information you need to create the maps.
Step 5: Select your mapping tools
The simplest way to start mapping is to use post-its notes and a blank wall. Each post-it can represent a task, with essential task information on it such as who typically does the task and how long it normally takes to complete. Working with the team, you then place each task in sequence and build up a picture of what happens in the process you are mapping.
When the post-it mapping session is finished, take photographs of the wall with your phone as you will need to reproduce this map in other formats (see below). I’d suggest this is done sooner rather than later, while everything is fresh in your mind.
There are plenty of electronic mapping tools available, far too many to name individually. For many years my favourite was Microsoft Visio and this is still the market leader for process mapping. More recently I have enjoyed using Lucidchart and Miro.
I have found Lucidchart and Miro to be especially good when conducting virtual process mapping exercises. It may be impossible to get the mapping team in the same room, so virtual process mapping exercises are often essential.
It is possible to create process maps using the more common Microsoft Office tools. I have seen process maps created using Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, although I have never used them myself for this purpose.
Step 6: Create your map(s)
Ideally, you should represent a process in several kinds of map. With each map, you can map the process in differing levels of granularity, starting from a high level and then working down to a more detailed level.
For example, a SIPOC (acronym for Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Client) is a high-level map used for getting a basic understanding of the process under consideration. An Activity Sequence Chart will set out a flow of activities, usually set out vertically from top to bottom, but it will not go into detail about who does those activities and how long they take.
A Swimlane chart comprises adjacent columns (either horizontally or vertically) and each column holds the tasks performed by a stakeholder in the process flow. Swimlane charts are good for highlighting handover points and showing the flow of work between the different stakeholders.
I find the Swimlane chart the most useful format for mapping legal service work and sharing with the mapping team.
The maps are created as a result of work done in the workshops.
You will need to plan the workshops by considering things such as the questions you are going to ask team members about the tasks they perform in the process.
After each workshop there will still be a lot of follow-up work to do, which is likely to include annotating and updating the maps and seeking clarification from some team members about specific points raised during the workshop.
You will also need to consider how many workshops you think you will need and then schedule them accordingly.
References to planning and scheduling is not accidental. For best results, you will need to run your legal process improvement exercise as a project.
Step 7: Validate your map
When you have created your map representing the process under investigation (aka ‘the current state map’) you need to have this validated by the mapping team.
There is no need to go into nth detail and strive to get everyone to agree 100% that your map is correct – getting 100% agreement on this from everyone is probably impossible anyway.
So long as everyone in the team is reasonably comfortable that the map fairly represents all the important steps in the process, you can stop mapping.
Congratulations – you have created a ‘current state’ map of a legal process.
Consider how the process may be improved
Now that you have a reasonably accurate map of the ‘current state’ you and the mapping team can consider how to improve the process.
I will discuss how to identify and implement process improvements in a later article.
The key for optimizing legal and business processes in legal service organizations is, as the IILPM definition says, to follow a structured method for identifying and implementing process improvements.
This article gives you a structured approach for creating your own ‘current state’ process maps, which should be the start of your legal process improvement journey.
You can find out much more about how to succeed with legal process improvement by attending my two-day IILPM certification course, after which you will become an IILPM certified Legal Process Improvement Professional (LPIP).
The aim of the course is to give individuals the skills, knowledge and confidence to apply legal process improvement techniques, including process mapping.