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Legal Process Mapping 101

By Damian Priamurskiy posted 30 days ago


Please enjoy this blog post co-authored by Damian Priamurskiy, Project Management & Delivery Specialist, Lowenstein Sandler LLP and Mike Ertel, Practice Innovation and Knowledge Attorney, Paul Hastings LLP.


Process mapping uses visual representation to document, analyze, and improve business processes. Its roots can be traced back to the time-and-motion studies conducted by Frederick Winslow Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, who sought to optimize industrial efficiency. 

One of the first studies was titled “Process Charts, First Steps in Finding the One Best Way to Do Work” published in 1921 by industrial engineer and efficiency expert, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. 

Gilbreth’s work introduced “process flow” or “flow process chart” or “process” as a structured method for documenting process flow. By using the term "flow" to describe the movement of work through a process, he emphasized the importance of seeing the process as a dynamic, interconnected system, rather than a series of discrete steps or tasks. By understanding the flow of work through a process, it was possible to identify opportunities for improvement, eliminate waste, and create a more efficient and effective work system.1

Over the decades, process mapping evolved, integrating various visual tools like flowcharts, value stream maps, and Business Process Modeling Notation diagrams. In legal process design, process mapping provides a clear, visual representation of workflows, which help identify inefficiencies, streamline procedures, and ensure compliance with legal standards. This enhances accuracy, reduces costs, and improves overall case management.

Mapping a Legal Process: A Case Study

In this article, we present a small legal process improvement case study using process mapping with the following scenario:

A client approaches your firm for a large volume contract review project. Each document must be reviewed within 24 hours of its submission to your firm. You are also required to produce a comment summary for each document weekly. These contracts are delivered in batches and require multiple attorneys to review these documents. How can you identify inefficiencies and optimize your existing process?

Step 1. Break Down Your Process

The first step would be to break up your existing process into discrete interconnected steps. What is your input? Who picks up the next action? How are these actions connected? Are there any decisions to be made between your process steps? Do you send out an email or produce a document during any of your process steps? These are some of the questions you may find helpful when creating your list of process steps. 

Table 1. Case study process steps.
Step 2. Visualize Your Process

When visualizing processes, it is important to write down each individual step despite how trivial or insignificant it may seem. For this case study, we will use ISO 5807 symbols. We will be using the below symbols for our case study in this article:

Figure 1. A sample of process flowchart legend.2

Figure 2. Process flowchart for our existing process.

Step 3. Analyze Your Process

Now let’s turn to the most interesting (and important) part! There are many ways to look at the process steps and analyze the process, you can utilize: lean thinking, Six Sigma, and other process optimization frameworks. For our case study, we will keep it simple. 
Let’s try to find non-value adding steps in the process.

For example, you can see that there is a lot of back-and-forth communication regarding gauging attorney capacity (e.g., steps 6 and 7). Our project manager is also tasked with consolidating all review comments into a single document themselves (step 11). These steps can be eliminated by using a sharing the tracker document (step 5) with our review team. Attorneys can also enter their comments in the same document that will be shared automatically with our client. This tweak will reduce inefficiencies and streamline our current process and will also increase transparency with the client, adding additional value to our client relationship while minimizing time spent on internal communication and manual tasks.

Step 4. Optimize Your Process

Following our sample analysis above, let’s visualize these improvements as shown below.
Figure 3. Optimized process flowchart.

Closing Remarks

While our case study is overly simplistic, it shows how legal process mapping can streamline processes by identifying and eliminating inefficiencies. It can also increase client value by significantly enhancing your delivery of legal services allowing more attorney time to be dedicated to actual client work rather than administrative tasks.

Works Cited
1. Baskaran, J. (2023, May 16). Why “Frank Gilbreth” used the term “Flow” in Process Flow. LinkedIn. 

2. Smartdraw. (2019). Flowchart Symbols.