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Document Ninja School: A New Program for a New Career Track

Over at Above the Law, Elie Mystal writes that recent events suggest we are seeing a new bifurcation of the attorney career path: traditional partnership-track associates and a new species of what he calls “barely legal” career paths.

This week, law firm WilmerHale announced that it is seeking 20 lawyers with the title of “discovery attorney" to do document review out of the firm's “business services center” in Dayton, Ohio. According to the firm, "discovery attorneys" will handle document reviews on a full-time basis, earning $55,000 to $60,000 a year, plus benefits.

It was also reported this week that Thomson Reuters is now looking to hire experienced contract attorneys to staff a new facility in Ann Arbor, Mich., by March 1.  The ABA Journal reports that the company is actively building multiple document review project teams for the document review facility.

Given the emergence of this new career track of "permanent document reviewer," Mystal asks a good question:

If we’re going to have two different “tracks” for attorneys, then shouldn’t we have two different tracks for legal education? Why require three years and charge six figures to train people for jobs that they have nearly no hope of getting?

Wouldn’t it be better if we had some of our law schools training the document professionals of the future? Put people in school for one year, give them courses on attorney-client privilege and some basic corporate and litigation principles, don’t make them sit for the bar, and let ‘em rip.

I like the idea, in theory. What Mystal refers to as “Document Ninja School” could be an intensive, one-year program that focuses solely on the skills and knowledge necessary to review documents for a living: privilege issues, e-discovery techniques, inadvertent disclosure rules, how to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome and so on. Arguably, graduates of DNS would be even more qualified to work in document review jobs than graduates of traditional law school programs because the focus of their studies would be specifically on serving in that role.

One question I have is whether there would be a sufficient number of applicants for DNS. All new law students seem to believe that they will graduate in the top 10 percent of their class and go on to fame and fortune. Is there a subset of potential lawyers who are willing to "aim low" and enroll in DNS as the first step in a permanent career reviewing documents for $60,000/year?

You tell me!

Posted by Bruce Carton on January 28, 2011 at 05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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