I often feel like the old guy at the end of the bar regaling his whiskey glass with tales of the old days. But the reality is the business of document review is changing fast. The first step was taking the reviews that used to be done by associates for hundreds of dollars an hour and making them the near exclusive purview of contract attorneys. Even then you’d see contract attorneys under the same roof as the associates and there was a sense of hands-on monitoring as the attorneys working on the case would have interactions with the poor plebes reviewing their documents. But those days are waning.
Much like InfiLaw’s takeover of law schools, big business is taking over doc review….
You only need to peruse The Posse List for a particular city and you’ll start to see a trend. Take for example NYC, most of the openings there are for one or two managed review companies. You’re being hired by the middle man, one of those “end-to-end litigation support” shops that quite clearly does not engage in the practice of law — though they may well facilitate it.
I’ve worked at a couple of these shops and there are economies of scale that I’m sure make it more efficient from the client’s point of view, with reviews that would take a law firm months to get through (even with contract attorneys) churned out in weeks. Despite the general decline in conditions for contract attorneys, there are definite pros for your average worker bee to these behemoths of document review.
Working a temp job can lead to lot of funny stories about ridiculous demands and kooky co-workers. The upside is no matter how insane it gets, you know the transitory nature of your job will whisk you away from this particular shade of crazy. But… you never can predict how nuts the next place may be. Some personalities really enjoy this variety and the unknown injects just a little bit of excitement into the otherwise mind-numbingly boring job of document review. For me? Well, I prefer the crazy I know. I like to be able to anticipate the potential landmines of a work environment before I step into them. Because the economies of scale these companies provide for litigants is very tempting — particularly for document intensive cases — managed review companies tend to have the largest cases that keep you working at the same project for months on end.
2. Constant Work
This benefit goes hand in hand with predictability. Even the largest cases eventually end or settle and then your average doc review monkey is out on the street looking for more work. Unless you’re at one of these doc review factories. They usually have so many cases going on that they’ll shuttle contract attorneys between cases, which ensures no downtime for us. These companies seem to like having a stable of reviewers they can utilize for whatever the client may need, and I like not having to collect unemployment. It’s win/win really. Sure, colleagues have told tales of moving between three or more cases in a day until the project manager finally decided on a staffing plan, but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
3. Lowered Expectations
Listen, the thing about these big document review shops is, well, they are big. Like any corporate hive that means there are plenty of places to hide. I don’t mean literally, though I suppose that’s also a possibility. But maybe you have a lot on your mind and you stop paying attention to all of the issue tags. Oh well. Chances are you’ll still be working the next day. Shoddy work hardly ever gets noticed as good reviewers along with bad get moved to the next project. The focus in these work environments tends to be on churning out the product to the client and the finer details often get lost in the process.
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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