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.