A Peek Behind the Document Review Curtain, by Dennis Kiker, Esq.

14 Apr 2014 2:11 PM | Chere Estrin (Administrator)
I recently had an opportunity to be involved with a large document review project, and it’s given me some things to think about.  It had been a while since I had been as actively involved with a project of significant size (nearly 10 million documents reviewed, several million produced) in a very hands-on way.  In this case, my responsibilities included setting up remote review sites, and training reviewers (particularly on privilege issues), and overseeing the review. 


 Now, let me say this right up front: I am a believer in predictive coding (or suggestive coding, or technology-assisted-review – seriously, do we have to call it TAR? – or whatever you want to call it).  I’ve drank the Kool-Aid.  I am fully on board and have been from the start.  In my view, it is the natural progression of document review, just like those little red flags were a natural progression from – well, I don’t know what, since they seem to have been around forever.  But, regardless of whether or not you use predictive coding, there is still a lot going on behind the scenes that matters in a large document review project.  These are the little nuggets of wisdom about which I was reminded on this project.


Document Reviewers Matter


Unless you are going to produce documents sight-unseen, which most lawyers are loathe to do, then someone is going to be clicking through docs on a computer screen.  Those folks matter, and they are grossly undervalued.  Let’s face it: We all know that few people (in the U.S. at least) go to law school aspiring to review documents for a living.  There are some semi-retired lawyers and others who for their own reasons really want to review documents, but they do not account for the majority.  The majority consists of recently graduated or displaced lawyers that haven’t been able to locate other gainful employment.  For the most part, these are smart, conscientious, hard-working individuals who try their best to provide value to the end client.  Trust me, I know from hard experience that the bell curve applies to most populations, and it definitely manifests itself here, where there are those on the left side that demonstrate few if any of these qualities, but one could say the same of associates in a large firm.  So, it was nice to spend some significant time with a large number of review attorneys and have the fact confirmed that they are, in the main, good people trying to do a thankless job as best they can.


Collection Matters


Regardless of what technology and process you apply, success in document review is dependent in part on success in the identification and collection phases of the project, particularly in a large project.  Aside from the obvious fact that the more you collect, the more difficult and costly everything else is, collecting even routine data such as e-mail and loose files will impact the process downstream. Think about the order of collection.  Identifying and collecting the most important and likely-to-be relevant data first will help accelerate the learning curve – human or machine.   Then there are the non-routine data sources (legacy systems, structured databases, etc.) that are often not amenable to any type of review, traditional or predictive.  A document review starts long before the reviewers show up.  It starts with identifying and collecting information.


Project Management (and Managers) Matter


Ah, the lure of predictive coding: a partner or senior associate, a computer, and, “Presto-magico,” your documents are done!  Well, in the real world, you’ve got to deal with staffing and facilities issues.  You’ve got people calling in sick and texting significant others at their workstation.  The A/C goes out and there’s no more Splenda in the coffee-break room.  Oh, and by the way, someone has to assign batches and plan QC and train the new person and make sure there are enough Post-It Notes to go around and the half-dozen other things that need to be done before the new group arrives at 10:00.  Worth his or her weight in algorithms and analytics, a good project manager keeps the wheels on the bus and can make or break a project.   A little insight: these are not skills that one learns while reviewing documents or studying for the bar.  


No, I am not looking for my next document review project.  I think one every few years is more than enough for me (and most people), but it is not going away.  So, when filtering the hype about new technologies, it is wise to remember that, in any big project, the reviewers, the collection and the project managers will still make a big difference, regardless of the technology applied.  


Authored by Dennis Kiker, Esq., Consultant at Granite Legal Systems.

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