What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

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ksllaw
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What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby ksllaw » Tue Sep 04, 2012 11:05 pm

I have two lawyer acquaintances (friends of friends) who I'm told do document review. I was told that they do temporary, contracted out legal work and have seen it referenced here and there quite a bit online. But, I've never truly understood exactly what the work entailed from a technical point-of-view and whether or not it related to the type of law the either big law or "small law" firms regularly do.

For those experienced in this area, can anyone possibly explain perhaps in a short paragraph what the work consists of and anything else you may or may not wish to add?

Thanks so much from a prospective 1L (a 0L thinking of applying to law school either this or next year)! Appreciate your time!!

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bk1
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby bk1 » Tue Sep 04, 2012 11:23 pm

Move to the correct forum. The Legal Employment forum is for current students, not 0Ls.

fw8014
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby fw8014 » Tue Sep 04, 2012 11:43 pm

Doc review = temp work with little to no chance of permanent employment and no benefits. Basically, you're reviewing documents all day on either an eDiscovery database or in paper, trying to locate and tag documents that will be helpful to the real lawyers. It's required because doc production can easily reach millions of documents, 98% of which is irrelevant to the case. You don't need a law degree to do doc review but it is so mindnumbingly awful that the work pays decently so lots of grads who were unlucky ITE end up doing doc review. It is not something you strive towards going into law school.

Doc review attorneys are often housed in a large, factory-like room that is separate from the rest of the firm. eDiscovery software has made leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, so even the meager comfort of available doc review work will diminish.

That said, reviewing documents is a bread and butter fact gathering skill that all attorneys do regardless of the size of the firm or the nature of the work. Junior associates will typically review the remaining 2% for relevant facts to the case / transaction, distilling it for the use of more senior attorneys.

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bk1
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby bk1 » Tue Sep 04, 2012 11:46 pm

In litigation each side will make discovery requests of the other side (e.g. asking for "all emails relating to the accident"). Document review is the task of reviewing documents provided and figuring out whether it is responsive (aka it falls within the scope of the request), privileged, etc. It also includes the task of going through the documents produced by opposing counsel and looking for important docs. It is generally considered a boring and mindnumbing part of litigation. It is done by both biglaw and smalllaw.

Biglaw takes a slightly different approach. To drive costs down, rather than use associates (who are expensive) to do most of the doc review, they pay contract attorneys (also called temp attorneys) to do the base level doc review. What these contract attorneys do is essentially stare at a computer screen all day looking at document after document. If they see something responsive/privileged/etc they flag it as such. If they see something that is important to the case generally they flag it as a hot doc. An associate then reviews what the contract attorneys have found before any decisions are made.

Doing temp doc review work is generally considered dead end because you are not learning anything (though I have met one person who made the jump from doing doc review to becoming associate at a biglaw firm, he is undoubtedly the exception to the rule). It generally goes to people who cannot get regular attorney jobs, mainly as a last resort. Though keep in mind there are plenty of unemployed JDs who would take this work over being unemployed and plenty of JDs working non-legal jobs who might prefer this over working at Starbucks (emphasis on might).

ksllaw
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby ksllaw » Wed Sep 05, 2012 4:27 am

fw8014 wrote:Doc review = temp work with little to no chance of permanent employment and no benefits. Basically, you're reviewing documents all day on either an eDiscovery database or in paper, trying to locate and tag documents that will be helpful to the real lawyers. It's required because doc production can easily reach millions of documents, 98% of which is irrelevant to the case. You don't need a law degree to do doc review but it is so mindnumbingly awful that the work pays decently so lots of grads who were unlucky ITE end up doing doc review. It is not something you strive towards going into law school.

Doc review attorneys are often housed in a large, factory-like room that is separate from the rest of the firm. eDiscovery software has made leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, so even the meager comfort of available doc review work will diminish.

That said, reviewing documents is a bread and butter fact gathering skill that all attorneys do regardless of the size of the firm or the nature of the work. Junior associates will typically review the remaining 2% for relevant facts to the case / transaction, distilling it for the use of more senior attorneys.


I appreciate the more detailed descriptions and perspective. :)

Hmm...does the work itself differ much from what paralegals would typically do? (Of course, paralegals would not be temporary workers.)

And, finally, are the wages for document review generally better than those doing solo practitioner or small law firm associate work? A friend/acquaintance of mine (although we're not in contact anymore)has been doing document review for almost two years now and is considering a solo practice. I know both are not ideal work for law grads and can be tough, but just curious as to how document review would stack up and compare with other non-big law jobs [in terms of salary, "prestige," mobility/transferrable skills, advancement opportunities, and the like]?

Certainly big law or a very prestigious public interest or government positions would be the most coveted jobs. But after that, I'm curious how these other areas stack up and compare to each other (if there might be a sort of hierarchy of non-big law legal work)?

Thanks so much for your time and perspective! Greatly appreciate it! :P

ksllaw
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby ksllaw » Wed Sep 05, 2012 4:44 am

bk1 wrote: It is done by both biglaw and smalllaw.

Doing temp doc review work is generally considered dead end because you are not learning anything (though I have met one person who made the jump from doing doc review to becoming associate at a biglaw firm, he is undoubtedly the exception to the rule). It generally goes to people who cannot get regular attorney jobs, mainly as a last resort. Though keep in mind there are plenty of unemployed JDs who would take this work over being unemployed and plenty of JDs working non-legal jobs who might prefer this over working at Starbucks (emphasis on might).


Thank you for the detailed perspective and explanation, bk1.

That does seem interesting that someone can move from document review to associate in big law. Do you happen to know more of his/her background and how the leap was made (even if rare as you say)?

Lastly, you mentioned that doc. review is done by both big law and small law. In small law, is it the actual associates who do the work versus a contract/temp attorney in big law? Or do "small" firms even utilize these temporary workers at times?

Thanks so much everyone. It's been helpful to know!

fw8014
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby fw8014 » Wed Sep 05, 2012 5:37 am

For an informative/hilarious/depressing insider's perspective on doc review / solo work, just read all of areyouinsane's posts in this thread: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=157855

It's way better being a legal assistant than a contract attorney. Legal assistants are integrated members of the firm and often form collegial bonds with attorneys. They have full benefits (at my old BigLaw firm, the staff had better benefit packages than attorneys, don't ask me why). The job security is great unless you're incompetent. Career legal assistants can make 100k+ with OT and no JD debt. Legal assistants may do some doc review but they get to work on plenty of other, more substantive projects as well.

To give you some perspective, I used to work as a legal assistant at a boutique firm. We hired doc review attorneys for a project, and they took all their orders / instructions from me and another legal assistant since we reviewed the filtered docs. We were fresh out of college. Some of the attorneys were in their 40s. My boss was a real piece of work and made me reprimand one of the contract attorneys once. I don't know who was more embarrassed.

This kind of treatment of doc review attorneys is not isolated. I summered at a firm that treats doc review attorneys relatively well, it even invites team leaders to certain firm events and lists temp attorneys on internal directories (yes, even acknowledging their existence is kind of a big deal). I became buddies with one of the guys in the mailroom and he took me on an informal tour of the firm, covering all the places I didn't see on my formal tour. When he took me to the doc review annex, he secretively whispered "this is where the temp attorneys work" with a mixture of pity and disdain before scooting me out the door. Mailroom guys look down on doc review attorneys.

I can't speak to job options outside of BigLaw post graduation, but I'd rather leave the profession altogether than be a contract attorney.

ksllaw
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby ksllaw » Wed Sep 05, 2012 6:15 am

fw8014 wrote:It's way better being a legal assistant than a contract attorney. Legal assistants are integrated members of the firm and often form collegial bonds with attorneys. They have full benefits (at my old BigLaw firm, the staff had better benefit packages than attorneys, don't ask me why). The job security is great unless you're incompetent. Career legal assistants can make 100k+ with OT and no JD debt. Legal assistants may do some doc review but they get to work on plenty of other, more substantive projects as well.

To give you some perspective, I used to work as a legal assistant at a boutique firm. We hired doc review attorneys for a project, and they took all their orders / instructions from me and another legal assistant since we reviewed the filtered docs. We were fresh out of college. Some of the attorneys were in their 40s. My boss was a real piece of work and made me reprimand one of the contract attorneys once. I don't know who was more embarrassed.


Hi, fw8014:

I greatly appreciate the insights and have one absolutely final batch of follow-up questions:

First, are you using the term "legal assisant" synonymously with paralegal? If not, how do they differ?

Secondly, that's ...surprising that legal assistants would have more "power" and benefits than temporary attorneys with JDs. Although, I'm becoming more aware of the overqualification downside to JDs now that I've been reading up on it and how they are sometimes turned away from jobs, due to flight fears and higher pay demands (real or perceived).

**In general, is it just not possible at all to go from a document reviewer at these big law firms to any kind of lawyer track position?

**Is there even an opportunity to go from document review to legal assistant if one does an excellent job of their work? The JD doc reviewers would certainly be more "qualified" than legal assistants, given the JD.

**Are there not big law firms that regularly litigate such that the team of contract/temp document reviewers they hire (who do a very nice job) could simply stay permanently with that big law firm as a reviewer? While the pay and work don't necessarily sound amazing, it seems just having a permanent position somewhere would be a huge benefit and relief for JDs doing this type of work. Do these big law firms not need doc reviewers constantly enough to simply hire a "regular" staff/team of them? Or possibly hold over the good ones?

**What training is needed to become a legal assistant (something I may want to consider) and is the market any better for them than is the hiring for attorneys?

Thanks so much. Those are my final batch of questions and I appreciated your help greatly!

fw8014
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby fw8014 » Wed Sep 05, 2012 7:03 am

1. I'm not aware of any differences between legal assistant and paralegal, although your duties will vary depending on the firm. I'd guess it's the same as admin. assistant vs. secretary (btw, the old secretaries at big firms make bank).

2. Contract attorneys have zero benefits, so any full-time employee at a law firm has better benefits. Power is relative. When I was at a big firm, I was regularly giving instructions and advice to some of the junior associates because I had more knowledge of the case or because they received no instructions from the senior associates. Is this power? IDK, they took home the big bucks.

3. Best career outcome for a contract attorney is "staff attorney". A staff attorney is a full-time employee of a larger firm who oversees doc review. There's only a hand full of these even at large firms and the staff attorneys are still not on equal footing with regular attorneys.

4. I don't know of any firms that hire legal assistants with JDs. It's not about qualification for the job, but the potentially awkward dynamic between the law school graduates and the kids out of undergrad probably discourages firms from hiring a legal assistant with a JD.

5. Legal assistant just takes an undergrad degree. The better the school / GPA, the better your chances of working for a good firm. If you meet the above, don't get a paralegal certification or any other such nonsense. The legal assistants at both firms I worked for either went to top schools or had connections. I don't know about the quality of the current job market for legal assistants but I switched jobs during 2009 and had multiple offers from good firms within a month of serious job search. That was with above average prior experience though.

ksllaw
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Re: What Does "Document Review" Work Consist Of?

Postby ksllaw » Wed Sep 05, 2012 9:54 am

fw8014 wrote:1. I'm not aware of any differences between legal assistant and paralegal, although your duties will vary depending on the firm. I'd guess it's the same as admin. assistant vs. secretary (btw, the old secretaries at big firms make bank).

2. Contract attorneys have zero benefits, so any full-time employee at a law firm has better benefits. Power is relative. When I was at a big firm, I was regularly giving instructions and advice to some of the junior associates because I had more knowledge of the case or because they received no instructions from the senior associates. Is this power? IDK, they took home the big bucks.

3. Best career outcome for a contract attorney is "staff attorney". A staff attorney is a full-time employee of a larger firm who oversees doc review. There's only a hand full of these even at large firms and the staff attorneys are still not on equal footing with regular attorneys.

4. I don't know of any firms that hire legal assistants with JDs. It's not about qualification for the job, but the potentially awkward dynamic between the law school graduates and the kids out of undergrad probably discourages firms from hiring a legal assistant with a JD.

5. Legal assistant just takes an undergrad degree. The better the school / GPA, the better your chances of working for a good firm. If you meet the above, don't get a paralegal certification or any other such nonsense. The legal assistants at both firms I worked for either went to top schools or had connections. I don't know about the quality of the current job market for legal assistants but I switched jobs during 2009 and had multiple offers from good firms within a month of serious job search. That was with above average prior experience though.



Thanks so much! Very helpful!




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