"Flow Charting--A New Graphics Tool for the Lawyer"

An edited version of this article was originally published in Computer Counselor column of the December 1992 issue of the Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine.

Comments are generalizations and may not apply to every situation. It is advisable to consult with a competent professional before relying on any written commentary. Paul D. Supnik is a member of the State Bar of California and not of any other state or country. The material set forth herein is not for the purpose of soliciting any engagements where to do so would be to offend or violate the professional standards of any other state, country or bar. This web site Copyright 1990, 1996 by Paul D. Supnik

By: Paul D. Supnik


The article reviews a program which allows the lawyer to quickly create simple charts for explanation of relationships of parties, the logical flow of procedures and the sequences of events and to client, counsel and court.

"Flow Charting--A New Graphics Tool For the Lawyer"


On occasion, there is a need for illustrating logical information in a case or transaction that can facilitate communication with client, colleague, opposing counsel, or the court. Common ways of illustrating information have been available in the past in the form of charts and diagrams which were either created by hand, or with graphic presentation programs. The hand or outside service charts were either costly to prepare or required considerable communication with the service company to make sure that the type of chart and the information being conveyed matched that which the lawyer wished to convey.

The other method of conveying information which has been available the past few years involves charting programs, such as Harvard Graphics and Lotus Freelance which permitted the creation of charts and diagrams which could be created with relative ease, but to some extent did take at least some time with which to become fully conversant.

A new type of program which has been available for some time to those outside of the legal community, but which does have some use in the legal practice is the flow charting program. This is a program that is primarily designed to show logical relations and logical steps which must be taken for a given set of circumstances. Suppose the the elements of a claim in a pleading are being analyzed. If certain facts exit, the nature of proof may change. If other facts are proved, then other consequences exist.

In a basic injury lawsuit, if liability is not proved then, the consequence is that there are no damages. If liability is proved, then there may be several elements upon which damages depend. This may be illustrated with a figure such as a diamond asking if liability has been proved. A line to the right of the diamond can provide three elements, for example which must be proved to establishing damages. A line from the bottom of the diamond may show that no liability exists indicating that there is nothing further to prove.

Another situation where logical situations occur is where you wish to illustrate the flow of a lawsuit. For example, initially a complaint is filed, then the summons and complaint are served, demurrers may be filed, discovery taken, discovery followup, a summary judgment motions may be filed, followed by pretrial and trial procedures. These can all be readily represented in the form of flow charts. Each procedural aspect could be represented by rectangles filled in a procedural steps. Lines with arrows show the order in which the procedures occur. Dashed boxes may represent procedures that might be optional.

There also may be factual situations, simply from the factual nature of the case that may warrant the illustration of those factual information by way of a flowchart. The relationships of parties is a typical example. Illustration of complex business relationships are ideally suited for graphic illustration. Thus, there are situations in the law practice in which it is appropriate for the creation of flowcharts for illustration of matter.

Charts which can be created with a flowchart program are not necessarily the most important form of illustration in a law practice, but they do have a beneficial purpose. That function might best be realized if there is a way to create the chart rapidly, inexpensively and in a manner which presents the information for a given objective.

Flow Charting 3, Patton & Patton Software, $250, Version 2.10

One program which has been on the market recently in this regard is Flow Charting 3 by Patton & Patton software. It is a program which is very easy to install, to learn and to use. The program is not lawyer specific. It was not even designed with the lawyer in mind. Yet it is simple enough for a lawyer to use immediately after installation.

Initially, the program is presents a menu screen with choices of creating a new chart, loading an existing chart, printing, saving and several other selections. After selecting the option to create a new chart, several options are presented for the type of chart to create. The chart can be set in either a portrait (vertical) or a landscape (horizontal) format. The chart can be a single page, a long continuous form or in the form of a canvas. Thus, after individual 8 1/2" x 11" pages of the chart are printed out, they may be pasted together to form a continuous larger chart. Three chart densities are provided, the normal allowing a relatively significant amount of information to appear on a single sheet of paper, to a condensed format, allowing a great deal of information to appear on a single sheet of paper.

After hitting the return key, it is then possible to select a variety of function keys to determine the type of action which is to appear by using the enter key and the cursor. The choice given is to select shapes, text, or lines. Shapes are used to put boxes, rectangles, circles diamonds, and other shapes on the screen. Text is used to place text on the screen in a variety of type styles. Lines are use to draw lines on the screen. A key is provided for readily copying shapes a number of times.

Thus, for example, when a shape is selected, it is possible to place a row of rectangles on the screen rapidly, then by selecting lines, it is possible to connect the rectangles where desired. Finally, the boxes can be filed in, annotated or described using text.

The types of shapes are those which are commonly used in connection with logic diagrams and are not designed for the use of lawyers. Thus, where the chart is created not for the use in connection with logic diagram, but to simply display relations, as is likely to be the situation with most charts created by lawyers, the shapes most commonly used are the rectangle and circle. Nevertheless, it is very quick to bring up these shapes on the screen, and that is the primarily purpose of the program. The shapes can be chosen with various fixed sizes, though the sizes of the shapes are not continuously variable.

Upon pressing "text", F3 from the editing menu, any characters thereafter typed are typed beginning from the location of the cursor. Normally, the regular type face of the program appears. However, pressing F9 brings up a selection of various type styles, including a title text which is fairly large, a bold face form of the regular small size text and several other text sizes. In the event that the "centering mode" is selected, anything typed within the boundaries of the shape will be centered and type will not be permitted to flow outside of the shape. Text typed outside of any shape will be centered on the page. Unlike many programs, text typing is available at the position of the cursor at any time, without the necessity of having to confirm the cursor position. Thus, using a mouse, simply moving the cursor to any desired starting position is all that is required to begin typing text, without even the necessity of clicking the mouse key, as would be required in Wordperfect. The larger font looks too computer generated, though there is talk of a change in a windows version which would permit the use of all windows fonts.

The program works very well with a mouse. If you do not use a mouse, the simplicity and speed in creating charts is lost. The mouse allows you to move the cursor on the screen, place shapes such as rectangles on the screen simply by clicking the mouse, and repeating the shape, and drawing lines simply by moving the mouse.

Lines are created by pressing the F2 key from the editing menu and moving the cursor or a mouse. In the line mode, lines are drawn simply by using the movement of the mouse in the direction of the line. There are four types of lines which may be drawn, thick, thin, double, and dashed. The lines may be terminated with an arrow or a connector. Pressing the "A" key at the end of the line creates an arrow in the direction that the line was created. Pressing the "F" key (for fast line draw mode) permits the line to draw itself to the next shape object in its way.

Movement and thus the drawing of lines is limited depending upon whether one is permitted to cross other lines. If other lines are crossed, the appearance is that breaks are shown, so that rather than having the lines connected, they appear to be either in front of or behind the other lines or shapes. Arrows are created at the end of the lines by typing A for arrow, automatically putting an arrow at the end of the line. There is a fast draw mode in which one the direction of the line is set, a line is automatically drawn to the next shape to which the line is directed.

The size of the chart can be adjusted so that the format can be in portrait or landscape, and in a single sheet, multiple sheets or canvas view. Thus, for a large chart, it can be printed out on ordinary paper and pieced together. The size of the shapes and the text on the chart can also be adjusted from a normal size in which the chart density is approximately 16 characters per inch, essentially the type size ordinarily considered to be a small typeface which is often used in accounting documents, a compressed 18.75 characters per inch, and an ultra compressed 25 characters per inch (200 columns by 157 lines). It is this last size in which the amount of information which can be compressed onto a single sheet of paper, that is a combination of text and flow chart diagram, is enormous. This is perhaps 6 times the amount of text information that could normally fit on a single sheet of paper and is the equivalent of multiple photoreduction of a paper to fit everything on a single sheet.

The program works with various printers including the ubiquitous HP Laserjet series and printers that emulate the HP Laserjet. The time it takes to print the graphic chart depends in part on the connection between the computer and the printer, as with all graphics programs. Thus, if the printer is connected directly in parallel to the computer, the print speed is fast. If the printer is connected serially, the speed of printing is affected by the data flow rate or "baud".

Charts can be readily date stamped showing the computer's system date.

The newest version is usable on a network. A Windows version is in the works which the company indicates will be able to use all the fonts available on Microsoft Windows.

In conclusion, flow charting programs can quickly create relatively presentable charts for simplifying the conceptual display of information.

The type style is then available to set, assuming that the fonts are available on your computer. There are only a few typefonts available in the program. One of the fonts is a very small font which permits the placement of a considerable quantity of information on a page. The normal type font is very small. This means that a significant amount of text material may be placed in the chart and on the chart page. I have found this to be an effective method of placing a significant amount of material on the page. The large title typefont supplied with the program is not particularly designed with the lawyer in mind as it appears too much like a computer generated font.