The Ugly Truth about Document Review
At its best, document review is a long and laborious process intended to find relevant (and hopefully dispositive) documents for your litigation or investigation. At its worst, document review is a remote, expensive, time-consuming, and not very revealing look into the facts of your case.
A good document review depends on the intersection of people, process, and technology. One cant win at the expense of the others. Most corporate counsel pass document review off to outside counsel, who often outsource it to other (domestic or international) vendors and document review teams. All of this can remove corporate counsel from the actual review process. To get a closer look at what is really going on in the review room, I interviewed half a dozen reviewers.
Review Room Conditions
Do you know if the reviewers are working in a room that looks more like the Taj Mahal or an outhouse with a dirt floor? Since good working conditions are important for comfort, efficiency, and satisfaction, I asked about:
- Space: Reviewer 3 said, When you feel like youre one of 100 people crammed into a room that has a capacity of 50, it just causes general angst and makes reviewers less productive and more rebellious.
- Amenities: I have seen review rooms where no food or drinks were allowed. In one review, we brought in a coffee maker, which was promptly removed by the person in charge. Reviewers actually appreciate a setting where amenities are provided, whether it is popcorn in the afternoon or a stocked drink refrigerator.
- Comfort: Reviewer 4 mentioned that he was in a document review where, We were inches from each other, sitting in chairs that somehow survived from the 80's. Not that every document reviewer needs the latest Herman Miller chair, but comfortable seats do matter, especially for document reviewer efficiency.
- Equipment: Dual monitors reduce eye-strain and increase efficiency. On the down side, Reviewer 1 was in a review where dual monitors were being used to stream Netflix and Hulu on one monitor while they reviewed documents on the other, maintaining a review pace of 60 documents per hour, so some supervision may be required.
Also, a slow network connection, server, or document viewer can drive reviewers batty. I worked on one matter where the network connection was not a T1 line for the entire law firm but a single DSL line for the entire building, of which the law firm was merely one of several occupants. If theres a time lag for documents to render, consider local access or using a Citrix server.
Every document review tool has its strengths and weaknesseswhether its a static or customizable coding layout, a clear document history, or the ease of use of the software itself. For instance, to increase efficiency and decrease inaccuracy, the coding panel should be set up to minimize scrolling. And, as it is rare for reviews to allow for a document to be coded both non-responsive and privileged, it is important to avoid conflicting logic in a case.
Training the reviewers to fully utilize the chosen review tool also increases efficiency and review effectiveness. Reviewer 4 said, During a period when contract attorneys were particularly scarce there was this one (older) reviewer who had to be instructed on the concept of using a mouse to tag documents. And then after a day of work he had to be instructed on the concept of saving ones tags.
Ensuring that document paths and exceptions have been specified is important, too. Reviewer 1 recalled that, There was one reviewer who refused to make calls on responsiveness and issue tags and instead tagged the majority of documents she reviewed as needs further review and explained, in copious notes, why it wasn't clear which issue tag was appropriate for the document. Unless you have time to read all of those notes, specify where the document goes next and what needs to be done with it. Likewise, if exceptions have been made, know what happens to those documents, who sees them, and who decides what to do with them. Exceptions can range from what happens if a document doesnt render properly to what happens if a document really is privileged and non-responsive.
It is essential that everyone, starting with corporate counsel and extending to individual reviewers, understands document review expectations and outcomes. The condition of the review room and the technology used are just as important as the qualifications and behavior of the reviewers. Being knowledgeable about review procedures and processes will help ensure an efficient and effective document review.
Sonya L. Sigler is vice president of product strategy at SFL Data.