Document Review

Like one of probably hundreds of associates of a certain vintage, I spent a fair number of billable hours sifting through thousands of documents (often copies of copies of copies of the same document) relating to the Enron fraud.  LJM1 and LJM2, Raptor I, II, III, and IV, etc. 

I don’t recall discovering anything that many others hadn’t already noticed, but as I found to be true in other document reviews, there were plenty of personal emails sprinkled amongst the “wheat” that offered some respite from the boredom of the review task.  That, plus the fact that essentially limitless low-stress billable hours are great for hitting bonus targets, were for me pretty much the only redeeming features of the document review exercise….

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Litigators can fall victim to their own imaginations. It’s really built into the system when they’re encouraged to write their exhaustive wishlists during discovery and fill their own dreams with visions of terabytes of entirely incriminating evidence. When discovery inevitably fails to live up to those dreams, litigators have to make a decision between accepting disappointment or accusing the other side of wrongdoing for failing to fulfill those sugarplum visions. Litigators are basically Captain Hindsight, constantly shocked — SHOCKED — that no one understood years ago how important something would be to a case today.

Kirkland & Ellis chose the latter, writing counsel for a non-party — yes, a non-party — suggesting that he was withholding evidence because he hadn’t kept every single email they thought he might have from four years — yep, four years — earlier.

And then this guy’s lawyer went brutally funny on them….

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Puff, puff, pass those voter initiatives.

* This failed firm’s drama is the Biglaw gift that keeps on giving: Dewey & LeBoeuf’s bankruptcy trustee filed an amended complaint against Steve DiCarmine and Joel Sanders seeking the return of more than $21.8 million. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Norton Rose Fulbright elected someone who “love, love, love[s] the law firm” as U.S. managing partner, and she’s the first woman to ever serve as U.S. chair of its management committee. We love, love, love this news! [National Law Journal]

* According to a California judge, tenure laws are unconstitutional and are depriving students of the high quality of education they deserve. The end is nigh, law professors. Enjoy it while it lasts. [New York Times]

* Not all states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but it’d be a lot cooler if they did. The tide is turning across the United States, and we’ll soon see which states’ drug laws go up in smoke. [Slate]

* “Document review attorneys are in demand now but the demand will gradually decrease.” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the one job you were able to get soon won’t need or want you. [InsideCounsel]


Oscar Pistorius

* Lawyers for Jones Day got a light spanking in court after sending out some of Detroit’s confidential negotiation documents to its creditors. Quick, blame the doc reviewers. Oh wait, you already did. Nice work. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Cynthia Brim, the judge declared “legally insane” who collected a $182K salary for months without working, was booted from the Illinois bench. She’s the first member of the state judiciary to be removed in a decade. [Chicago Tribune]

* Massachusetts is instituting a $30,000 pay hike for state judges which will prime the pump for pension bumps and retirements. For the love of God, think of the poor ADAs next time, Massholes. [Boston Globe]

* The power of diagramming compels you! If you’re studying for the LSAT, here are tricks you can use when trying to exorcise the demons from the logic games section. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Prosecutors want Oscar Pistorius to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in order to urge the court to consider an insanity defense, even though Bladerunner’s legal team doesn’t intend to mount one. [CNN]

If I spend time reminiscing about the wayback times — all the way back to when I was a summer associate — I am reminded that one of the benefits of litigation (at least as described to me by an older associate nearly a decade ago) was supposed to be that it was recession proof. Meaning that just when the deals that characterize good economic times were slowing down that was when the real litigation would begin. So you’d be busy with new cases created by deals gone bad while your friends that joined corporate departments would find themselves without work to do at the same time a firm might be looking to make some cuts.

Now that didn’t prove quite true — when it’s time for Biglaw to do layoffs, litigation personnel find themselves as much at risk as every other department. But it is accurate that we do see an uptick in litigation after bad economic events. After all, it was only about two years ago when nearly every document reviewer or contract attorney found themselves on cases dealing with residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS). Yes, those same deals that nearly crippled the economy spawned massive litigation that kept food on my table. It didn’t matter what firm, agency or even city you worked for/in all the big document review projects seemed to be about RMBS. Now that that boom is nearly over we are left to wonder — what questionable business practice will lead to tomorrow’s doc review boom?

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We spend a lot of time chronicling the lows of being a contract attorney. It’s the very bottom rung of the legal profession, but no matter how disrespected the job it is still an essential part of modern litigation. These jobs are rarely permanent positions so as contractors move from temp job to temp job there is an inordinate amount of terrible and just plain crazy jobs out there. Horrible working conditions, bad bosses and low wages are all par for the course, so it takes something really special to stand out.

This job posting a tipster sent in literally had my jaw dropping. So what job is flirting with minimum wage and has even a jaded industry insider like me shocked?

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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:

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We all get frustrated from time to time; that is a seemingly normal part of every job. And I suppose it only makes sense that those of us that actually got ourselves through law school, and have the debt to show for it, but somehow find ourselves mired in the morass that is document review would be especially vulnerable to these feelings. Modern technology being what it is, there are now seemingly an infinite number of ways to deal with the sense of impotency: maybe you post racist and sexist invectives under an anonymous (read: easy to figure out) screenname, maybe you try to garner support for a union, or maybe you take to task those that you feel have wronged you, by posting a Craigslist ad.

This is a story about the latter. What does it look like when a contract attorney decides to flame on?

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If you’ve spent any amount of time doing document review I know you’ll find this scenario familiar.

An associate gathers the reviewers around for “feedback,” a simple word that drips with derision. You’d think the associate might actually be a 13-year-old girl told they can’t go to the mall there are so many eye rolls and sighs peppered through this allegedly constructive conversation. The crime you and your fellow doc reviewers stand accused of? Not properly applying one of the 15 issue tags to responsive documents. The horror. Never mind you are being asked to code 100+ documents an hour on a computer system that whines and chugs along at the effort of moving between docs. There is apparently a standard of perfection on this project and you and your fellow inmates have failed to make the grade.

This goes beyond the simple horrible boss phenomenon. But what is it about document review that seems to draw this ire?

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