6 Ways Human Intelligence Enhances Artificial Intelligence in Document Review

Jul 10, 2018 4:00:00 AM / by Benjamin R. Eisenberg, Esq.


Artificial intelligence is all the rage in E-Discovery. As it should be, since technology assisted review (TAR) has and will revolutionize the way attorneys collect and process information. But for the foreseeable future, there will be another type of intelligence on the other side reviewing the documents. Human intelligence. 

Some documents can be excluded entirely through predictive technologies. But for those that remain after the artificial intelligence sorts, slices, dices, and makes bite-sized batches of beautifully threaded information, a document review attorney must review it. With second generation TAR, reviewers continue to be important, since results are frequently entered back into the AI to improve predictive results.

So what makes a successful interaction between the artificial intelligence and the human intelligence? In my years as a document review attorney, both as a contractor and recently as an associate at an E-Discovery boutique law firm, I have observed one key overlooked variable: emotional and social intelligence. Ironically, the most human of characteristics is still alive and well, and in fact vital to successful human-technology partnerships.  

Here are some ways in which our fundamentally human emotional and social intelligence can make a difference in document review:

  • Safe communication

A single unaddressed assumption in a document review project can lead to a hundred thousand documents being improperly coded. If the entire team is not on board, there can be dramatic inconsistencies in how documents are treated. Nothing is more frustrating than having to re-code an entire tranche of documents because a few people were not on the same page. And if this bad coding is fed back into a second generation TAR the AI cannot use its full potential.

However, with open communication and strong team dynamics, problems are stopped before they start. People feel safe to talk about their concerns. Teams freely ask questions about the documents, and freely receive answers. They give reasons for judgment calls on particular documents, and get feedback from peers and supervisors. These strong team dynamics mean key documents get caught and categorized, privilege calls are consistent, and efficiency increases.

With strong team cooperation, documents get coded quickly and correctly. With good human partners, the artificial intelligence can “happily” go about its work finding the best documents to review.

  • Emotional energy

Successful document review attorneys can keep sustained attention over long hours. All attorneys do tedious work requiring close attention. However, there is little that compares to the emotional stamina it takes to spend months reading through thousands of often vapid documents. Document review attorneys need extreme focus and emotional endurance.

Different professionals use different techniques, but the most successful have strongly developed emotional management techniques. Personally, I have used the Pomodoro Method, hourly productivity goals, and various mindfulness meditation techniques. This sustained attention to mental and emotional energy allows for intense focus, high productivity, and accurate coding.  

Successfully managing emotional energy can make a threefold difference in my document review productivity. I have seen ever greater ratios for other teams. And if quantity is not a concern, then quality certainly should be. Consistent coding and good judgment calls, plus an eye for key documents, can be significantly improved through managing emotional energy.

  • Stress management

Last minute document review requests are the norm, rather than the exception. A law firm finds thousands of more documents; a custodian never had her laptop processed—the last minute document review needs are endless. With often strict deadlines for production based on negotiations with opposing counsel, stress can build up like a pressure cooker.

Document review teams that crack under the pressure can make a mess. Privileged documents are produced to opposing counsel by accident. Key documents are missed in the midst of frantic last minute batch coding. Large chunks of documents are unfinished, requiring the law firm to request (another) deadline extension from increasing irate counsel or judges.  

But professionals who have the emotional intelligence to regulate the stress, ride the adrenaline, and produce high speed, high quality work in short period of time—that can lead to a successful document review project.

  • Respect

Since emotional energy is so important to the sustained attention needed for document review, anything that can disrupt that process can lead to problems. Anything that sustains it will make for a better review.

If a strong case is a like beautifully crafted gold jewelry, then document review attorneys are like the gold miners. Artificial intelligence can bring the dynamite to blast closer to the vein of ore, but the final work is usually done by the document review workers. They are the ones who help find the right materials to craft the best case.

Unfortunately, not every law firm gives proper appreciation to these foundational workers. Doing what is often considered the lowest-level work, at an hourly wage, in often bare-bones work environments can be taxing on morale. I have seen firsthand how a culture of undervaluing document review attorneys can lead to significant drop-offs in productivity and accuracy. It’s human nature.

The good news is that it is not that difficult. It doesn’t take much honest appreciation to get document review attorneys in better morale. It doesn’t take super-human communication skills, just some consistent consideration. Sincere appreciation and concrete feedback by an associate at a law firm (let alone a partner!) is enough to create significant positive waves throughout a document review project.

Authentic human respect is a low-cost, high-return solution for E-Discovery needs.

  • Work Culture 

Artificial intelligence cannot teach work ethic. The document review world runs the gamut from new attorneys without a clue to seasoned professionals with a specialization in E-Discovery. Review teams can range from cynical vendors who focus on billing high and working low (leading to missed documents and missed deadlines) all the way to firms dedicated to finding and keeping the top line document review specialists.

There can be a five-fold difference in productivity based on work culture. Trust me, I have seen the entire spectrum first-hand. There are vivid differences between the bottom and the top of the document review profession.

  • Relationships

Whether we are getting along with our traditional tribal members or working together with electronic discovery vendors, human relationships still matter in the age of artificial intelligence.

Relationships are everywhere in document review. Relationships between document review attorneys. Relationships between supervisors and workers, and between firms and vendors. And, of course, the relationship with the clients providing data.

With strong relationships a discovery team can find the data, review the documents efficiently, and organize the information effectively. When any step of this network of relationships breaks down, something is going to fall through the cracks. Strong networks of relationships can catch problems before they start.

Artificial intelligence can make parts of this human network much more powerful. Like a GPS system, it can guide the team to the most important data to review. But it is by working together, in strong professional relationships, that all the members of the team can get the E-discovery process through to its final goal.

Topics: For Contract Attorneys, Law, Law Firm

Benjamin R. Eisenberg, Esq.

Written by Benjamin R. Eisenberg, Esq.

"Ben is a document review professional providing top-level service as a Discovery Associate at an E-Discovery boutique law firm, Tanenholz & Associates. He has several years of experience as a document review contract attorney. He has seen it all: working fast on late night ""fire drills,” giving extreme attention to detail on privilege logs, and have long conversations about responsiveness. Ben learned that emotional intelligence matters for attorneys, having served for several years in the nonprofit sector giving free legal services. Prior to his legal education at Berkeley Law, Ben worked for several years cleaning streets and sorting trash at a recycling plant. He knows how to work hard all day to clean up a mess. "