4 Ways To Maximize The Value Of Reviewing Documents

Simple tips to get the most out of your review.

I spent last week in my former hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the Wisconsin Law & Technology Conference. An attendee at one of my panel discussions asked me how we conducted reviews. She is a government attorney and their resources to review documents provided by opposing parties is limited. That’s a problem that everyone faces, not just government attorneys.

In response to her question, I mapped out the process that we follow — one that allows clients to get the most value out of the review dollars they spend, but is very different than the standard first and second pass review. For those of you looking to shake it up, here are my four tips to maximize the value of your review:

1. Organize the review by issue instead of by batch. Traditionally, reviews are batched out sequentially as in 1-500, 501-1000, etc. Instead, gain a firm understanding of the issues in the case, create a tagging structure for the various issues with sub-items under each issue, and then bulk tag by issue using search terms, doc types, and other variables that allow you to sort. It won’t be perfect — meaning that you won’t get all of the docs batched by issue, but you’ll allow your teams to help educate you on the search terms and types of docs that define the issue. And then your review team can provide you a summary of the issue in addition to you having documents tagged for relevance, privilege and issues. Yes, it takes longer, and yes, you need reviewers with subject matter expertise. Both are doable.

2. Hire great reviewers and train, train, train them in the substantive matters of the case. If you want to batch and review by issue, your review team has to understand the issues in depth. Talk to your review provider and get the best reviewers with knowledge of the subject matter. Pro tip — the best reviewers are not the one with the fastest per doc review rate. If that’s what you want, stick with the standard first pass review. Once you have a team, provide a written document of custodians with a general description of those custodians, then outline issues and the tagging structure with definitions so that it provides real guidance for them to tag. Hold a more in-depth training than the standard 1 hour “get started” meeting. Have a few hours, do it by video or in-person and really talk to them and answer questions. Then be available to answer questions for the first day or two, and meet with your QC folks to see where the problems are coming up so you can clarify with the team. As the attorney, you know what the strategy for the case is — get the most out of your review by keeping them focused on what you want to know.

3. Have the review team communicate during the review, and be a part of it. Your reviewers are lawyers and they are there to help you. Let them ask questions, clarify tags and issues and tell you what they are seeing. We use instant messaging and both our QC and Project Manager are on it. Use software that allows for tagging people (so the team can direct a question to the PM or QC Manager). We find that the IM tool can refocus our review very quickly by identifying additional bulk tags for issues and then we can re-run sets for review on the fly. It also speeds up the process.

4. Have your Issue Teams draft memos on what they are seeing as they review to give you a complete picture of an issue. There’s no sense in letting all the knowledge gained from reviewing documents go down the drain, but that’s what we do with a lot of first pass review. Instead, have those lawyers be lawyers and help you put together an overview of the issue. The memo should be shared among the team (you can use Office 365, Google Docs, or some other doc sharing service) and everyone should add to the same document. Have them do it stream of conscious — some use bullet points as they go, some write paragraphs at the end of a day. I ask our teams to stop one hour before ending for the day. They take the 45 minutes and summarize what they are seeing. It will end up being issue specific, but it will also give you insights into the data and how you can better refine the review for the next day. Then we spend the last 15 minutes on a group call reviewing stats for the day and answering any questions. The team feels like a team, and we get great information and much more in the results column for our clients. 

Review isn’t going away, even with the advent of Computer Assisted Review or Technology Assisted Review. Judgment is made by lawyers and clients want that judgment at a price they can afford. These steps can help you achieve both.

To close, I want to wish each of you a fabulous and relaxing holiday this week. May you be surrounded by people you love and end the week renewed to come out and finish 2017 strong.  Happy Thanksgiving to all!

This article first appeared on Above the Law.

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