This column is designed to deal with all of the issues related to document review — and we’ve dealt with a bunch. Whether it is staffing agencies, fellow reviewers, or associates, there is no shortage of things to complain about when you are on the very bottom rung of the legal world. No one goes to law school thinking, “Oh, maybe one day I’ll get to be a document reviewer,” and that profound lack of satisfaction with their careers leads to a uniquely disgruntled set of workers.
All that is true, but sometimes there is reason to be disgruntled. In all my professional experiences, there is nothing quite as outrageous as the pure lies that are told to document reviewers. Sure, they may try to hide behind the inherent instability of the industry, but the thing that is really frustrating is the lies. Maybe you can never prove it as such . . . but they know, and you know, it is a blatant untruth.
As George Orwell once declared, “In a time of universal deceit — telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Thus, without further ado, I present the top four lies of document review:
1. This Project Will Last For A Few Weeks.
This is like the #1 cardinal sin of document review. Every project I have every worked for has said it will go on for a minimum of two weeks. I have been on dozens of projects that have lasted less than a week. And I get it, in a world where contract attorneys have options of which projects they work on, even a smaller hourly salary can seem appealing if you are able to secure a long term project. (As a side note, this comes up in the comments all the time, that whatever terrible hourly salary we are discussing isn’t really that bad because if you work 2,000 hour a year, that is a reasonable yearly wage. And maybe that is true — though given the inevitable debt of attorneys that is doubtful — but the lack of job security is really a bigger problem than people are giving it credit for. You never know when the next project will start or how long it will go for, so budgeting and other financial planning is largely aspirational.) That means there are lots of projects that advertise as if they are going to be a few weeks long, then two days later the whole team is released. #surprisingnotsurprising
2. More Documents Are Coming.
This is sort of a corollary to number one, as it is just a ploy to get reviewers to buy into the overall scheme of the project despite their best interests. It most frequently comes up right as a project is coming to an end. Those reviewers competent at math see that the number of documents is rapidly declining, so maybe your ability to churn through 150 documents an hour takes a dip. I mean, if the project is almost over so it is unlikely you’ll get sh*tcanned for being a slow reviewer, it is only in your best interests if the whole project sloooows down and it lasts for a few more days. That is when the project managers start with the lies. There are more documents, so please don’t slow down, or there is some new project you might be considered for, so please keep reviewing as fast as you can and save the client a few dollars. It is usually a lie, but the small chance that continuing at your current pace could provide you with a few more precious days of work keeps you going.
3. You Are An Essential Part Of Our Litigation Team.
This is a super-generic “motivator” that gets trotted out all of the time. See how it makes you feel like you are a professional working in a career of your choosing? I mean, no client or partner has ever even heard your name, but that vague feeling of pride in what you do means a better overall work product. Maybe it is a cynical attempt to keep the quality above a sanctionable level, but please know that this is not likely to translate to a full-time job offer. Reviewers who pin their hopes of full-time employment to how “crucial” they have become to any case are just sad. Don’t be that guy.
4. We Know The Review Rate On This Project Will Be Slow.
On the surface, this seems like the most benign of the lies. And it is usually meant earnestly. Often when the powers-that-be on a project do not have a specific review rate in mind they default to this generic statement. But inevitably, whatever the average rate comes out to is not going to be fast enough. And this is frequently when folks start getting cut from projects for not meeting an unspoken quota. When you hear a variation of this lie on a project, my best advice is to keep asking the project manager or associates in charge what the current rate is and ensuring your personal productivity numbers are in line with that standard. You do not want to be an outlier — so slow it is easy to justify cutting you, or so fast your work is subjected to additional quality control. The middle of the pack is the best place to be, or at least the place that will hassle you the least.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to follow Alex on Twitter: @AlexRichEsq.