Document Review

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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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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Ah, the billable hour. It is the bane of many attorneys’ existence, and almost anyone who has spent time within a law firm has their own story about… ethical lapses surrounding billing. Maybe it’s something seemingly small or benign like always rounding up when tracking working time or billing through bathroom breaks (or Farmville breaks) because, hey, your brain was still thinking about the issue. Or maybe it’s billing the exact number of hours a partner believes a task should take, no matter how quickly you are actually able to charge through it.

The perverse incentives created by billing by the hour (especially when the attorneys involved have billable requirements for either their job security or their expected bonus) for legal work has been well tread, but sometimes a document review attorney has a really clever excuse….

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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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The LSAT’s fate come August?

* NO, NO, NO, NOTORIOUS! Previously unpublished documents from the Clinton White House have been released, and it looks like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was criticized for her “laconic” nature. Not cool, Bill. [Legal Times]

* Document review jobs aren’t going anywhere, folks. Exhibit A: Winston & Strawn’s e-discovery practice is bringing in the big bucks, earning the firm more than $20 million in revenue last year. [Capital Business / Washington Post]

* More lawyers are being treated for substance abuse for drugs and alcohol than ever before. In fact, a founding partner of Farella Braun + Martel, one of California’s largest firms, was once a “functioning alcoholic.” [Am Law Daily]

* A Florida jury apparently set on “sending a message” to tobacco companies awarded $23.6 billion in punitive damages to a chain smoker’s widow against RJ Reynolds. That was a costly message. [Reuters]

* June 2014 marked the fewest people who sat for the LSAT in 14 years, but it may get even lower if a new ABA proposal which would allow the test to be waived for 10% of students passes. [Central Florida Future]

* Dan Markel, FSU Law prof, criminal law theorist, and PrawfsBlawg founder, RIP. [Tallahassee Democrat]

We’ve spent a fair amount of time in these pages decrying the low wages that contract attorneys are being offered. And the reasons for this go deeper than just some intrinsic belief that attorneys deserve to make more than minimum wage or the somewhat selfish desire to pay more than the minimum amount due on your student loans (or any of your other financial obligations).

Accepting low-paying jobs, and doing a decent (read: non-malpractice) job, has the effect of driving down the overall market rate. Once one major staffing agency or vendor starts offering below-market rates, others start dipping their toe into the cheaper waters and before you know it, the market standard has changed . . . and not in a way that helps contract attorneys. This reality has even gotten some begging their compatriots not to take below the market rate and even floating the idea of a contract attorney union.

So aside from the obvious, and all too common, scenario where you are trying to stave off financial ruin, is it ever okay to take a job that pays significantly below the market rate?

This is more than just a hypothetical question…

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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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