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ANALYSIS: Got Doc Review? Don’t Despair, Do This Instead

Sept. 20, 2021, 6:31 PM

After finishing law school and surviving the Bar exam, you have finally made it to your first year as a law firm associate (or clerk). Even if you think you’re ready to be drafting game-changing motions to the court, chances are good that your early assignments will involve document review. But don’t let document review assignments get you down, and don’t let disparaging remarks about the work fool you: doc review is extremely important and, when done well, can set you apart from your peers. Keep these tips in mind to maximize these opportunities.

1. Don’t underestimate your work.

Cases have been won and lost because of document review. If done well, document review can uncover factual issues that define—or even alter—case strategy. On the flip side, poorly executed document review could result in missing an important issue, or even producing something that is privileged, confidential, attorney work product, or just not responsive—all potentially harmful to your client’s case. Pay close attention in your review and be engaged in the case, and you will make valuable contributions.

2. Be prepared.

Review the training materials carefully. Hopefully, you will be provided with a thorough training binder. If not, ask if you can work on putting one together yourself, with input from your supervisor. Learn as much about the background of the case as you can. Get comfortable—fast—with the tagging criteria.

After you have reviewed the training materials, try your hand at a batch of documents, and then ask questions early. You don’t want to get too far into your review without fully understanding the instructions or implications of certain documents. Learning the ins and outs of the review will equip you to be an effective, efficient, and valuable member of the team—and will set you up to lead the document review team through the next review phase or case.

3. Understand the goals of the review.

Goals of the document review may change based on whether it’s a first-level or second-level review. Be sure you understand where the case is in the process and the goals of the review.

Usually, a main goal of document review is to determine which documents your client will produce to the other side in response to a request for production. However, another goal is often to identify documents that will help your client win their case, as well as documents that present a risk to the client. You must be well-versed in the facts and strategy of the case in order to help with this goal. And if you achieve this goal, you will be the one the senior attorneys turn to when it comes time to prepare for interrogatories and depositions. And in any document review, you must always be conscious of protecting privileged and confidential materials.

4. Know your metadata.

When you think of document review, you probably think of reading or scanning the face of an email or other electronic file that you have up on your computer screen. However, it can be just as important to review and understand the metadata associated with a document. Metadata, or data about data, can reveal important information, such as who worked on a document and when it was created. While some metadata is easily visible, other metadata might be embedded or hidden. Work with the document review vendor to be sure you are seeing all parts of a document and its metadata. Metadata should be reviewed and produced as appropriate.

5. Use technology to your advantage.

Make sure you are familiar with all of the capabilities of the review platform. Simple tools like persistent keyword highlighting and customized coding panels can be used to great effect. Ask for training from the document review vendor to learn more about the technology and how it can benefit your project. Familiarize yourself with technology-assisted review workflows in case those are an option in your case. You will impress your supervisors and work more efficiently if you dive into the technical aspects of document review.

6. Look at document review as an opportunity.

You can use this assignment to your advantage. As someone with their eyes on the facts, you are well-positioned to make valuable contributions to the matter. If you perform your job well, you will know the facts of the case better than anyone, and you can become a vital asset to the team.

Be proactive: As you learn new facts, create (or add to) key documents such as a master chronology, document chronology, and key players list. If you think you have found something important, run it up the chain. If you notice issues or inconsistencies in the document review process, flag them and suggest solutions. Offer to review documents like witness interview outlines in case your mastery of the facts can inform them. And ask to be kept in the loop on higher-level case strategy if you are not already, so that you are fully aware of potential issues as you continue your work.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find additional resources geared towards summer and junior associates, including practical guidance, workflow tools, surveys, and more on In Focus: Core Skills – Litigation and In Focus: Lawyer Development.

To hear more about how to succeed in your first year, register for this free Bloomberg Law webinar.

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