Document Review

Look, e-discovery is not going away. Doc review (at least English language doc review) will never be high paying or sexy. But, as e-discovery becomes more and more prevalent, it will continue to become a larger part of the legal job market. So, how do you get out of the rut of sitting in a windowless room, making $10 an hour (or less), typing the date of each e-mail you read into the date field of your coding software? How about taking your knowledge of the front line ESI issues (document coding) and learn a little bit about managing ESI projects, starting with how to draft discovery? As we learned yesterday, ESI discovery can be tricky and employers mostly know that, so understanding the concepts behind it can help you move through your career.

Since Bryan Garner was just in my town last weekend, and I’ve been spending a lot of time drafting ESI discovery requests and dealing with  opposing counsel’s requests, I have been thinking a lot about drafting proper ESI discovery requests, including proper wording…

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Bert and Ernie. Peanut butter and jelly. Salt and pepper. Some things just go together; these natural partnerships add up to more than the sum of their parts. So when I came across a press release announcing a partnership between an ediscovery vendor and a law school, it made perfect…

Wait.

What?

There is going to be a doc review shop at a law school. And apparently the law school is okay with that, even excited.

What exactly is going on here?

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Welcome to working in South Carolina!

Stop it South Carolina. Okay, not like everyone in South Carolina, but based on the tips we keep on getting it appears to be one of the worst markets for contract attorneys. This is not the first time the Palmetto State has been featured as one of the worst jobs, and I fear it won’t be the last. Once there are a few bad jobs (particularly as “bad” relates to wages) in a regional market it can trigger an avalanche effect and even staffing agencies and vendors that used to consistently offer projects above the market rate start to heed the downward market pressure.

And I know exactly how it happens…

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I enjoy reading Alex Rich‘s informative, comical, and sometimes depressing posts about life as a contract attorney, particularly in the world of document review. While I have no desire to do full-time doc review, I can see how the “bill and chill” nature of the job could appeal to some people. But in my world, there is more to being a “contract attorney” than being a coder.

Contract work is basically working for an attorney for a limited purpose. It ends once a task is accomplished or after a fixed period of time. Common contract-work projects are court appearances, document review, legal research, drafting or editing motions, and even trial. If you know the right people and have a certain skill set, contract work is not a bad way to make a lawyerly living. But for most new solo practitioners, contract work serves as a supplemental source of income (along with other interesting and strange side gigs) while they try to get their practice up and running.

Today, I want to talk about a rare contract attorney position: a temp-to-hire arrangement where your employer/client hires you on a contract basis and may offer an associate position in the future. I will talk about how to spot such a position and make the most of it. Finally, I will discuss whether it is better to accept the associate position or remain a contract attorney.

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Lawyers, by nature, are not very optimistic people. Maybe it’s a function of assessing risk constantly — with your ass on the line no less. Or just that lawyers tend to get called in after the s**t has hit the fan, so we aren’t generally exposed to the very best of humanity.

I can no longer remember if I was an optimistic, glass-half-full kinda person before law school, but surely there was some spark in me that saw the good in people and situations. I know because I just felt that small flame of hope flickering in my chest get extinguished. And it’s all because of a job posting

So what job is so bad it has me questioning my very faith in humanity?

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Isn’t discovery fun?

Attorneys can pretty much be broken down into two categories — those who have experience with doc review, and those who have been lucky enough to avoid it. But, there will be a point in the not too distant future when the latter group will become the ultra minority. I have been preaching for years now to attorneys: “Woe unto you who fails to understand the importance of metadata.” When I am consulting with attorneys on tech issues, be it trial technology related, practice management related, or e-discovery related, I always get a large portion of attorneys who tell me (usually with their eyes), “Look, son, I haven’t needed this is the past, I don’t need it now, and I’ll never need it. Change is bad.”

Finally, I have some authority to back me up….

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The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.

How tech savvy are you? Take this Challenge and find out!

(This challenge is brought to you in partnership with our friends at CredSpark.)

Take the Legal Technology Basics challenge here.

We all know that outsourcing document review to contract attorneys is a cost-cutting measure. Gone forever are the glory days of junior associates spending weeks slogging through the most mundane of emails… all while billing their time out at $300/hr. Contract attorneys now do that work (and feel lucky to even get 1/10th of the associate’s hourly rate) and because they have experience with the review tools and don’t labor under the illusion that document review is below them, they tend to do it faster with no appreciable decrease in quality.

But even though the purpose of using contract attorneys is to save money, that doesn’t mean that waste is eliminated. It still happens all the time.

But what is the most blatant waste of money I’ve ever seen?

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When you’ve been doing anything for a while there are certain patterns that emerge as you start to make sense of the madness. Document review is no different. Sure, as a temporary job your employer changes frequently, but the core of the job at hand remains the same. So it doesn’t matter who the client is, what staffing agency you’re with, or how the project is managed there are some idiosyncrasies to the job that crop up repeatedly. These are the dependable quirks of contract attorney life that have become the bane of my existence and I am certain other doc review monkeys will recognize the pattern.

So what are the ways in which all document review projects are the same?

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Often times, lawyers get a reputation as Luddites. Refusing to be up to date with the latest technology, it takes only the smallest set back to have attorneys running back to old fashioned ways. So, I am sure many readers, even those of you not currently taking the bar exam, probably had a visceral reaction when you heard about the extensive tech issues surrounding the July 2014 exam. Lat even called it “the most serious bar disaster I’ve ever covered in the eight years since I started Above the Law.”

Yikes.

Unsurprisingly, if you followed the news on Twitter, there was also a fair amount of schadenfreude from more, ahem, established lawyers crowing about how the low-tech experience of their day was obviously superior. Elie even got into the mix.

But as bad as this whole debacle was (and continues to be) there are still reasons attorneys should reject the Luddite label and embrace technology.

Those of you directly affected by ExamSoftGate should probably wait until the sting wears off before reading…

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