Well, it’s mid-February. You know what that means. It’s not just the sure-to-be-awkward ATL Valentine’s Day mixer. Stores are crammed with mid-level chocolate, Made-in-China teddy bears, and overpriced flowers. That can only mean one thing. Love, like the wintery mix the east coast is expecting, is in the air. This phenomena is so universal that even folks locked in a document review space for 60 hours a week are not immune.
In fact, it is even more prevalent in the isolated spaces of document review….
We all know that the office parks and basements where document review takes place aren’t designed for comfort. In fact, the comfort of the actual reviewer is pretty much the furthest thing from anyone’s mind when they are created. All that matters is filling the space with as many bodies as the network bandwidth can support. After all, the overhead on these spaces only cuts into profits.
The results of this forced closeness can be surprising. Sure, you may be annoyed by the mouthbreather in the row ahead of you, or baffled by how loudly the guy in the corner is able to type, but you can also find camaraderie with your fellow inmates. Much has been written about the difficulties of making friends as you get older (and it doesn’t matter what your biological age may be, lawyers — even the ones that can only get contract attorney work — are old). However, in a New York Times article, Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, boils down the science of making friends into three main components.
proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other
Well, I am pretty confident that reviewers meet the proximity requirement. As for repeated, unplanned interactions, some of these review projects can run much longer than expected. I know I did not plan for the current project I am on to run for six months and counting. And no one ever “plans” the crazy freak-outs on a Thursday that all of X custodian’s files need to be reviewed by Monday or we are all being fired.
Then there is letting down your guard. That can definitely be a challenging one. But the truth is that reviewers are often placed into awkward situations without an office door to close. It’s not that you mean to be a snoop, but you just can’t help but overhear all sorts of conversations about divorces, loan payments (or lack thereof), and other personal matters.
This petri dish of circumstances leads to a lot of flirting… and a whole lot more. It makes sense really; the conundrum of an office romance is a cliché for a reason. All those factors that make office romance a “thing” apply to document reviewers, without the pesky professionalism getting in the way. Now easy there, I’m not necessarily saying that all document reviewers are unprofessional (though some of you are, admit it). But the professional concerns (people will think I slept my way to a promotion, what will I do when I have to see her everyday after we break up) that may keep people from romantic entanglements with co-workers simply apply less to the world of contract attorneys.
I am proud to say I have only acted as Uatu the Watcher, and have avoided getting hit by Cupid’s arrow while coding documents, but there is a lot to see. I’ve seen married couples staffed on the same case (because why not take a low-paying job with terrible prospects and multiply it by two), and it doesn’t get weird at all when they start debating how to properly code a document with the subtext of who forgot to wash the dishes. Casual office flirting that turns to more at a happy hour is also fairly common. And I have even heard rumors that some people have taken their encounters back to the deserted review space for the main event. This intrigue of who is doing whom and where is perfect office gossip fodder and makes the drudgery of redactions a little bit more bearable.
Alex Rich is a T14 grad and Biglaw refugee who has worked as a contract attorney for the last 7 years… and counting. If you have a story about the underbelly of the legal world known as contract work, email Alex at email@example.com