Harried, But With Purpose

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Harried. That’s the usual descriptive word for the week prior to the start of a discovery project (especially when it's been a week like this one: several new projects beginning while preparing to head to LegalTech NY next week). Assembling and familiarizing team members; developing and fine-tuning QC protocols; hour-by-hour updates from technology partners; constant discussion with outside counsel; making sure the client is getting concise and relevant information. Effectively relaying all the information to the people who need it. Logistics, logistics, logistics.

These challenges, as you might have noticed, are solved through collaboration, communication and coordination. It is the groundwork needed to achieve a successful and budget-conscious review project. The maestro of this orchestra is the project manager. It is his or her responsibility to have a plan in place, implement it, tweak it as necessary, manage the issues and move the process forward.

Much of a project manager’s time and expertise is best put to use in transitioning the project from a harried environment to one of streamlined communication and coordination. This includes accurate budgets and every member of the team knowing his or her role in the process. “A” comes before “B,” etc. Initially, ramp-up might be full of changes and the desired decision rates targets might not be met; the good PM will have a plan that accounts for the unexpected, avoid overreaction, correct what needs correction and get everyone and everything running at optimal levels.

Some may call it organized madness, but every review truly is one large learning process. It just has to be built into the process – knowing when and where the team could experience difficulties and being able to adjust on the fly. It is as critical as assembling the right team leadership and team members. It includes training on the substance of the matter and on any new software or technology that might be put into use during the review and preparing the materials that are needed for an efficient start and completion of the project. Again, each of these measures takes thoughtful collaboration and communication in order to maximize results down the road.

In the end, it all comes together to increase efficiency and effectiveness, save the client money and get the job done right and on time. Just know that the duck that appeared calm on the surface likely had its feet paddling like mad underneath to make it happen.

E-Discovery & Document Review From a Different Perspective

Note: Shawn DeHaven is a Counsel On Call attorney and team leader and has offered to post his thoughts on the discovery process and working with Counsel On Call here. This is his first entry. To learn more about Shawn, please see a profile piece in Counsel On Call’s newsletter from last summer.

I received an email from a colleague recently with a link to an ABA article titled, “Paralegal Job Can Make Career Sense, But Document Review Is Dubious, Experts Advise.” Nothing like a great headline to get your spirits up.

The article suggests document review work should be avoided by new law grads so much so that, in some instances and if given the choice, it is better for said grad to take a paralegal job in lieu of a document review job. I would have acquiesced to the point since, on its face, the article appeared to be written with the new grad as the target audience… but for the fact that one linked blog attacked the industry as a whole.

The blog suggests that document review work is “totally meaningless” and describes it as “walmart for lawyers.” Continuing, the author states no actual lawyering is involved, that all one learns are some new legal concepts, results in the amassing of no new skills, and suggests “…it's valuable work for the client that we never meet and who doesn't give a ___ who we are…” I can only infer from the author that if one is not a litigator, they should not be called a lawyer.

I would like to thank all of the authors, the scores of bloggers and others who proclaim the professionally detrimental characteristics of document review work. I appreciate the categorization of it being dead-end and worthless work. The more negativity and misinformation there is out there means less people will be drawn to the work… and that keeps those of us who do the work employed.

All kidding aside, there is a dearth of commentary addressing the positives of discovery work. There are certainly scores of contract attorneys who don’t do such work, as my colleagues at Counsel On Call can certainly attest. But I’m sticking to what I'm currently working on, which is discovery work, and rare is the article or blog written by an attorney proclaiming how great the work is; maybe my team and I are different and actually see the work in this light.

I am an attorney. I have represented clients in court. I have provided legal guidance to companies. I do document review and discovery work. And I am happy.

How is this possible, the cynic might ask? Consider this: an attorney working on a discovery project has the unique opportunity to learn something new -- the use of technology in litigation. I posit that if all one learns from working on a document review project is to press ‘Shift 5’ all day, then one was probably not open to the work in the first place. That is not a bad thing. It’s okay, the work is not for you. As I see it, there are two different types of people, those who embrace the task they have been assigned, take pride in the work they do, and attempt to glean some big picture mastery… and then there is everyone else. It's kind of like that Jimmy Buffett song, “It’s My Job.” It's how you look at, it's about perspective.

Back to technology…. On each discovery project I’ve worked on I have been moved from regular reviewer to the quality control team because I identified ways in which the process could be improved through the use of technology. The full use of these tools allows the process to be a puzzle, a game of sorts and a challenge – every day is a little bit different than the last. It is challenging to learn about new technologies and shortcuts and how they can assist the process. To me, this is fun; and now that I have found my niche at Counsel On Call as a team leader, I enjoy going to work every day which, I have heard, is a rare thing for an attorney. But more importantly, I’m providing expertise and value to my client, and that is a big part of why I became a lawyer in the first place.