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Document Review: When 'As Fast as I Can' Doesn't Cut It

This post yesterday on the Temporary Attorney blog shared a directive sent out via e-mail to contract attorneys handling a "junior" level document review (paying $23 an hour):

Please pick up the pace. They are expecting you to do about 80 docs an hour and all of you are less than half that. Changes will be made soon if this does not change asap.

The tipster forwarding the e-mail added that "every week half the project leaves. We drew a little graveyard with tombstones and the grim reaper on it. Soon, it won't be able to hold all the contract attorney dead."

The demand for the review of "80 docs an hour" highlights the extent to which document review has now been commoditized in the legal world. Despite being a supposedly important part of the discovery and investigative process in legal proceedings, and despite the sometimes dire consequences if the role is not performed correctly, some clients and law firms continue to prioritize speed and cost-savings above all else.

One commenter on the post stated, "Have you ever been on a doc review project? If you have, you might remember that some docs might come with 2 attachments or 30 attachments. If you run into the latter many times over in any given batch you are assigned to review, meeting this goal of 80 docs per hour isn't as obtainable as you make it out to be." Another responded that the expected document review rates on projects he had worked on were well above 100 per hour, even on "the most difficult cases" and "regardless of attachments."

Another commenter seemed to summarize the prevailing outlook among contract attorneys forced to meet such quotas:

It's all quantity over quality now. With outsourcing, you are now competing with the 3rd world LPO mills. The billable hour is dying which is why you are seeing 3rd party outfits (like discoverready) that bill by the document and not by the hour. If they want 1,000 documents, give them 1,000 documents. Scan for keywords, breeze through the pages, and cross your fingers that your name isn't on any privileged documents that get passed through.

Having worked on some massive document reviews myself, I agree that it is unreasonable to believe that reviewers will be able to thoughtfully review documents over any sustained period at those rates. When the documents the attorneys are reviewing become lengthy or complex, and the attorneys simply are not capable of reviewing and coding each one in a minute or so, mandates like the one in the e-mail above force a choice: get fired or perform a woefully deficient review. Call me crazy but I suspect the response in most cases is to not get fired, and rather to take the approach summarized above: "If they want 1,000 documents, give them 1,000 documents."

Posted by Bruce Carton on October 20, 2009 at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)


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