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What are “processes” in law departments? And, so what?

We who care about the effective management of in-house legal functions bandy around the term “processes.” What is a law-department process?

A process is a series of related activities repeated to achieve an understood goal. Law departments consist of hundreds of substantive processes: review promotional material; analyze trademark clearance searches; decide whether a document is protected by a privilege; determine the completeness of coverage in a non-disclosure agreement, etc. Administrative processes are almost as numerous: review and approve invoices, enter data into the matter management system; interview candidates, etc.

A process can be described in a flow chart, a process map (See my post of Aug. 28, 2005 on process maps.). A process can be studied, as compared to a one-off, singular activity. A process can be standardized, streamlined, and quantified (See my post of Nov. 14, 2005 on Six Sigma.). A process can be assigned to one or more people, and resources linked to it. For instance, knowledge management fills the sail the most when there is a process that the knowledge applies to

The term “process” can be taken at so many levels, it can lose usefulness (much like the word “system”). Is “provide legal counsel to clients” a macro process? Sure, if you describe the steps in that all-encompassing process as “learn the facts, apply legal analysis and judgment, then deliver conclusion,” but the level of abstraction is nosebleed.