Designing legal processes can feel like pulling teeth, without the eventual relief. Following them is worse.

But processes are crucial to achieving substantive business goals. This is particularly true in large organisations. Team members repeat processes and then iron out inefficiencies through more repetitions, resulting in more cost.

Despite this, processes often develop in an ad-hoc or even accidental manner, without much attention paid to their practical design.

LegalVision’s business model relies on using efficient processes to deliver quality, cost-effective legal services. We consider process design a core business operation and a competitive advantage.

But, first…

What Are Legal Processes And Why Do They Matter?

A process is a series of steps taken to achieve a specific goal. A legal process is a series of steps taken to achieve:

  1. a legal goal (e.g. conflict checking and registration of a security interest); or
  2. a business goal, where the steps rely on legally trained personnel or legal systems (e.g. legal sign-off and document management).

Processes exist whether we like it or not. They take shape wherever people work towards a goal. A bad process can waste time, increase risk and frustrate staff. A good process can drive down costs, indemnify your business and bring teams together.

One LegalVision client transformed its secondee sourcing process from an ire-inspiring storm of emails to a sophisticated online marketplace. This marketplace will ultimately save time for senior legal team members and drive down secondment costs by forcing external law firms to bid in the marketplace. The simple, transparent platform also reduces the risk of failing to meet resourcing needs on time.

What Is a ‘Good’ Process?

Good processes feel good. They’re invisible. But what does this mean in practice?

We cannot overstate the value of simplicity. It contributes to the efficiency, usability and measurability. Simple processes are a joy to interact with. And remember, elimination is the ultimate expression of simplicity. If a process can be eliminated, it should be.

We can improve processes through measurement. Processes are dynamic. They shift with the goal they are aiming to achieve and the people interacting with them. Commitment to reviewing and improving processes is essential for their ongoing efficacy.

Now that we know what we’re aiming for, here’s how to get there.

Four Tips For Designing and Embedding Good Legal Processes

1. Dream

Design for an unconstrained world; then iterate.

Incremental improvements are helpful. But process design is often most impactful when we completely rethink an existing system by dreaming of a process utopia.

Try this.

Imagine a universe in which every step of your process is perfectly efficient and elegant. Describe that process and its benefits on paper. Think big. Be ambitious. Even outrageous.

Now take small steps back in the direction of reality. Don’t lose the aspirational flavour of your design. You may end up closer to utopia then you thought you could.

2. Innovate

Innovation ≠ technology.

In a business world buoyant in Silicon Valley Kool-aid, it’s easy to confuse innovation with technological innovation. But innovation is characterised by upheaval and unorthodoxy, not (necessarily) code and computers.

So when should we use technology in process design? A good barometer is the number of users of a process. The greater the number of users the greater the chance that a tech-supported process is the best solution and the cost of building or buying technology will be justified.

More generally, to create innovative processes, try looking at the current way of doing things and asking, what if we did something different? What if we did the opposite?

A complete procedural overhaul may be unwarranted. But the mental exercise of challenging the orthodoxy can lead to a step-change in efficiency.

3. Empathise

Design for the human end-user.

Processes are most effective when they solve a real problem felt by a human user. This approach is called human-centred design, championed by the award-winning global design firm, IDEO. IDEO’s approach to creative problem solving relies on the user’s observation of a product or process. Its designers develop a deep empathy for the end-user, allowing them to build useful and usable solutions for them.

Empathy requires us to surrender our own perspectives and form a deep understanding of others’. The simplest way to do this is to genuinely and generously listen.

Implicit in the act of genuine listening is an acceptance of the ideas of others. The language we use can signal acceptance (or rejection) of our friends’ and colleagues’ views.

Try eliminating the word “but” from your vocabulary. Replace it with “and”. This simple substitution forces us to build on others’ perspectives, rather than comparing and distinguishing them from our own.

Collaborating and empathising with the human end-users of a process will shape the design to meet their needs more completely.

4. Accelerate

Ask: how can we implement this tomorrow?

Reengineering and deploying a newly designed process can be slow and arduous, especially for large organisations. Blaming implementation delays on bureaucracy or technology is easy.

But we needn’t accept the implementation timelines given to us.

Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, met seemingly impossible product launch timelines simply by asking telling his team to work faster. We can borrow a similar and less draconian approach from Paypal co-founder and venture capitalist, Peter Thiel. The billionaire investor asks entrepreneurs, why can’t they achieve their 10-year plan in 6 months.

This achieve-the-impossible mentality is not completely crazy. Startups rely on the uncanny speed of delivery to compensate for relative disadvantages like undercapitalisation. They do so by releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) to their end-users, gathering feedback and refining their product. All while building trust with customers.

Challenge your process engineers to implement a minimum viable process. Ask how can we implement this tomorrow, using currently available resources. In our experience, opportunities to accelerate are often available; you just need to ask.

How We Approach Process Design

At LegalVision, process design, and an emphasis on achieving deep empathy with our end-users are fundamental aspects of our NewLaw philosophy. We create efficient legal processes in our own business to improve the legal service we provide. We also assist clients on their process design journey in two ways.

1. Collaborative Process Design Workshops

Our co-design workshops for in-house legal teams – what we call Design Jams – loosely resemble computer software “hackathons”. The aim of these half-day workshops is to collaborate with legal teams to design innovative solutions to the legal process challenges facing in-house legal teams.

2. Legal Solutions Assessment

Some challenges facing legal teams are not suited to a co-design workshop. Where team collaboration is not the most appropriate starting point, we deploy our legal innovation strategists to diagnose and quantify issues relating to one legal workflow and rapidly produce solutions.

What challenges do you face when streamlining processes? Let us know on our LinkedIn Page or get in touch on 1300 544 755.

Simon Baume

Next Steps

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