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….

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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?

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That law firms are all about talent is a commonplace. Too bad that so many lawyers seem to have an uncanny knack for knocking the wind out of the sails of the most spirited contributors.

I dare you to tell me that you don’t recognize at least a few colleagues who exhibit some of the behavior described in The Three Habits of Highly Effective Demotivators, just picked as one of the top posts of 2013 on Booz & Company’s “Strategy & Business” publication. If these colleagues are at your firm now, you know what to do; if they used to be at your firm and you took the necessary measures, congratulations. (Just be on alert that you may have to do it again.)

The author uses the example of a real, but disguised, high-tech startup in the academic sector, whose CEO—otherwise brilliant—was referred to internally, sotto voce, as “the DM,” standing for “the DeMotivator”:

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Limited discovery: NOW!

* Exciting news: Justice Sonia Sotomayor will be leading the countdown on the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square. She’ll be the first SCOTUS justice to perform the task. You go girl! [New York Times]

* Blank Rome and Nixon Peabody are reportedly in merger talks, but one firm’s managing partner says he “talk[s] to firms all the time,” it’s no big deal. No word on what guys from his high school do. [Reuters]

* Sorry, Quinn Emanuel, but this limited discovery thing is going to happen. Judge Ronnie Abrams recently slapped down the firm’s attempt to appeal her MTD denial in this contract attorney’s suit. [Am Law Daily]

* A state court judge from Texas stands accused of strangling his girlfriend over the balcony of his apartment and threatening to “f**king kill [her].” Romance in Texas has certainly got some of that je ne sais quoi. [Dallas Morning News]

* A legal soap opera? An ex-prosecutor whose relationship with a judge landed her lover in hot water was found dead in her home hours after a judicial misconduct ruling came down. R.I.P. [Reno Gazette-Journal]

* Take a look back at the legal profession’s year that was: from the highest of highs in gay marriages to the lowest of lows in law school enrollment, 2013 was a year for the record books. [National Law Journal]

Yeardley Love

* “This should be a red flag for everyone in legal education and the law firm world.” According to NALP, the percentage of women associates has dropped for the fourth consecutive year. That’s just lovely. [National Law Journal]

* Next summer, the co-CEOs of Hogan Lovells from legacy firms Hogan & Hartson and Lovells will make way for a single CEO structure. If approved by vote, Stephen Immelt will be in charge. Congratulations! [Am Law Daily]

* And the peasants rejoiced, for one of the FLSA overtime suits filed by a document review attorney has survived a motion to dismiss. Quinn Emanuel must have been genuinely shocked by this judge’s ruling. [Am Law Daily]

* “One thing we understand is law and economics.” Yet another law school finally, finally gets it. George Mason University School of Law has agreed to freeze its tuition — for the time being. We may have more on this development later today. [InTheCapital]

* George Huguely V, the UVA LAX bro convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend, has got one hell of a lawyer. Paul Clement is arguing his client’s right to counsel was violated at trial. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Today we have a story of a contract attorney who made good — well, a contract attorney who got a permanent position. That position was called “staff attorney” and he still had to review documents, but now with health insurance.

But what happens when that staff attorney feels like he is on the losing end of favoritism, finds himself passed over for promotions, and eventually gets fired? You get employment litigation.

Which firm finds itself defending against a document-reviewer-cum-staff attorney’s claims of age discrimination?

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* Stan Stallworth, the Sidley partner accused of sexual assault, has hired a prominent criminal defense attorney to represent him in the case while the firm stands by its man. [Am Law Daily]

* Wall Street regulators are considering approval of a formidable version of the Volcker Rule that would ban banks from proprietary trading. Voting occurs later today. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Skadden Arps has asked a judge to toss an FLSA lawsuit filed against the firm by one of its document reviewers. Aww, silly contract attorney — there’s no way you’re getting overtime pay. [Law360 (sub. req.)]

* Weil Gotshal is still leaking like a sieve. This time, Bruce Colbath, a partner from the firm’s New York office, defected to the Antitrust and Trade Regulation practice group at Sheppard Mullin. [Market Wired]

* Lawyerly Lairs, China Edition: Raymond Li, chair of the Greater China practice at Paul Hastings, just purchased a townhouse for about $95 million — and paid “mostly in cash,” homie. [Wall Street Journal]

* They’re extremely tardy to the party, but if the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar gets its way, law schools will be subject to random audits of their employment stats. [ABA Journal]

* It’s a tough job that “can really beat you down,” but an organization called Gideon’s Promise just made it a whole lot easier for law students to secure jobs as public defenders in the South. [National Law Journal]

… because you’ll find a sad man crying himself to sleep.

Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving, and it is traditional to publicly spew all of the things we are thankful for ad nauseam. Fine. Despite the horror of not yet knowing the exact bonus benchmark that “elite” firms will set for themselves this year, I am sure there is something for which I am thankful. Well, I am on a large project that seems like it will last through the end of the year. That is pretty much the best a contract attorney can hope for — especially in a week where we will miss out on two days of work (you call it a holiday, I call it forced budgeting).

This weekly column has really been about the nature of the worst legal job, and the underlying message is that it can be a sad existence. I am not saying this to garner sympathy — let’s face it, anyone who decided to go to law school probably isn’t a great candidate for sympathy — but rather to describe reality. Packed into a room of people who were positive, in the not too distant past, that they were better than the life they are currently living can be disheartening. We’ve focused a lot on the dollar amount associated with being a contractor, and the actual tasks you might do, but what is life really like for the legal underground?

You won’t believe the extremes one West Coaster is going to for an hourly wage…

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I recently received an email from a rather desperate attorney. They’d finally come to the realization that after losing their job a few months ago they would need to take a contractor position, and they weren’t happy about it. I wasn’t either when I took my first contract attorney job, but it pays the bills and I guess that is the point.

Do you remember that old anti-drug PSA from the 80s that informed us that no kid wants to grow up to be a junkie? Well, no law student wants to be a contract attorney. But much like learning not to share dirty needles, there are tricks for the best way to survive the legal underground.

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I recently started a new project (yay money). It was accompanied by all the usual strum und drang — the seating chart, the log-ins, the deadline — typical but annoying stuff. I noticed that a buddy of mine was there. Well, at least it was someone I’d been on reviews with before who was distinctly not weird. When you’ve been on multiple projects with the same agency or vendor you start assembling a cast of “regulars,” and these people can be your lifeline during arduous projects. We start to reminisce about past projects like old war buddies and it strikes me.

I’ve been doing this too long.

Not just in a “what am I doing with my life” existential crisis kind of a way, but for at least the foreseeable future this IS my life. Like anyone in any position for a bunch of years I’ve amassed tips and tricks to get through the day, and can predict the general course of a project. So in celebration of the stalled nature of what I, laughingly, call my career, I present the 7 signs you’ve been doing document review too long…

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