I never practiced law in the good old days when document review consisted of boxes, each one of which would take a week to review. By today’s standards that level of productivity is likely to get you fired. Discovery is taking up the biggest chunk of corporate legal budgets and anything to mitigate those costs is considered a win. We all know this is where ediscovery vendors and contract attorneys have made their nut, coming in when a terabyte of data needs to be reviewed as inexpensively as possible. This is how the practice of law becomes a business and with that shift in dynamic, customer service has become as important as legal judgments.
Given this backdrop it is no surprise that when a client says “jump,” staffing agencies reply, “how many contract attorneys would you like to do that for you?”
So what crazy demands are being made of document reviewers?
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?
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?
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:
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?
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?
Yes, benchslaps are great fun to read about, especially if you enjoy a little schadenfreude. But benchslaps are not fun to receive — and they’re not always justified.
Because of the prestige of judicial office, judges generally get the benefit of the doubt when dishing out benchslaps. But sometimes judges go too far. For example, some observers felt that Judge Richard Posner crossed the line when interrogating a Jones Day partner during a recent Seventh Circuit argument.
This brings us to today’s benchslap — directed at a lawyer for the federal government, no less. It’s harsh, but is it warranted?
Well, it’s mid-February. You know what that means. It’s not just the sure-to-be-awkward ATL Valentine’s Day mixer. Stores are crammed with mid-level chocolate, Made-in-China teddy bears, and overpriced flowers. That can only mean one thing. Love, like the wintery mix the east coast is expecting, is in the air. This phenomena is so universal that even folks locked in a document review space for 60 hours a week are not immune.
In fact, it is even more prevalent in the isolated spaces of document review….
I’ve recently realized I do a lot of complaining. Maybe it’s hard not to. This column has given me a terrific forum to… well, complain about a lot of the things I think are wrong in the world of document review. Maybe it’s a screed about horrible bosses or how the reviewer next to me seems allergic to using tissues. I regret nothing.
Venting and getting it all out there has been cathartic and the response from you the readers has been vindicating. But, I am trying to be a little more zen about the legal profession and my small role in it.
It’s an imperfect science, and I am still working on it, but here are some tips for loving doc review….
Email. In the last 20 years it has gone from office novelty to a ubiquitous mainstay of our daily lives. I am not complaining about this; the explosion of email is part of what has fed the growth of document review. Everytime you hit send, a new document is created and a contract attorney gets their wings.
And, oh, the fun of email! Of course there are jokes and forwards, all of which are designed to be entertaining, but there are so many other enjoyable aspects of the medium. Such as the firm-wide screed of a recently terminated document review attorney.
So what Biglaw firm was treated to an angry missive from a fired doc reviewer?
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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