Have you ever wondered about how to advance in your career as a document review attorney? The phrase “career as a document review attorney” might seem incongruous when you consider that many people do not graduate from law school and endure the agony of the bar exam with the hope of becoming a document review attorney. However, a career in the electronic review industry is not implausible when you consider there is a growing presence of, and demand for, contract attorneys in major cities. This suggests that the electronic review industry will not soon collapse and that you can support yourself by performing review work, which is good, but how do you advance? How do you get noticed by the client, outside counsel, or your employer when review attorneys are often stigmatized as less capable than lawyers who have traditional jobs, like associates and prosecutors? Although there are numerous roads that lead attorneys to document review positions, it seems that rare is the path that leads to project management. Below are some steps you can take, though, to position yourself for advancement within the e-discovery field.
First, the most important thing to remember is that you, as the review attorney, are still an attorney. Never forget this. You earned the right to practice law, which is a very honorable achievement signifying admission to a selective profession that often engages in meaningful business. Therefore, it should be fundamental that you take yourself and your work seriously. Often, it may seem as though review work is trivial, but it is not. Your work is part of the litigation process, and review work done well eases the responsibilities of the trial team. Review attorneys who understand this are usually punctual and work a full day, and they manage their batches well as reflected by a good review rate and accuracy of coding decisions. Whether creating privilege log entries, making privilege calls, issue spotting, making redactions, or coding for responsiveness, you can start to position yourself for advancement by working with purpose.
Second, it is crucial that you think with purpose and acuity while coding for responsiveness and issue spotting. Well, you may ask, what does it mean to “think with purpose and acuity” when working as a document review attorney tasked with making a basic responsiveness call? It means that you put yourself in the shoes of the trial team and try to assess the probative value, the evidentiary significance, if any, of each document you code. You do not have to weigh the potential prejudice of a document, as this is something that the trial team will likely consider at a much later point. However, you should always consider how important a document is to the merits of the case and how it impacts the client’s position when deciding about responsiveness. Note that privilege coding and redactions each have their own definitive rules such that conducting probative value analysis is not as useful.
Now, when coding for responsiveness and issue spotting, make sure you have thoroughly read the protocol and understand what information the interrogatories seek. Carefully reading the protocol will also help you understand the client’s position. Make notes of any questions you have and ask the project manager or team lead rather than another reviewer, who may not provide you with the most accurate answer. Once you understand the client’s position and what information is being sought, you have a solid foundation to assess the probative value of the documents in your batch.
Next, recall the definition of probative value from your criminal law or evidence class as being “having the effect of proof; tending to prove, or actually proving.” Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd ed. 1910), available at The Law Dictionary. This means that each document you review is potential evidence that can be used in a legal proceeding. As such, you should not perform first pass responsiveness or issue spotting review in a cursory manner. Deliberate review is required to make sure you understand how the document could be used to benefit or attack the client. So, as you work through your batch, try to think like the trial team and consider whether each document is sufficiently useful to prove, or disprove, assertions made in the protocol, interrogatories, or subpoena. Remember, you need not consider the prejudicial weight of each document when performing first pass responsiveness or issue spotting, as this is a decision best left for second and third tier review. It is enough that you consider how each document correlates to the protocol and if it can be used to prove or disprove an important assertion therein. If the document is likely to prove or disprove something in the protocol, then code it responsive. This approach is helpful to identify documents that are only subtly responsive due to a nuanced application that might otherwise be missed with a casual approach. Applying this technique does not require much extra effort and is a good way to increase your coding accuracy. Project managers are sure to note reviewers who consistently make correct calls on documents that require escalation because they are not obviously responsive.
Third, if you want to make the transition from review attorney to legal project manager, then you need to prepare by learning legal project management skills. Most attorneys that have been in practice before taking a job as a review attorney are able to manage multiple cases, as well as myriad administrative tasks. However, in the e-discovery field, legal project management involves aspects that most lawyers do not encounter, and consequently, is it helpful to learn some of the basic terminology and concepts specific to this area of practice. For example, what is an electronic discovery reference model, or how do you scope a project? The good news is that there are many ways to learn the skillset for a career in legal project management, such as online courses and reference materials. You do not need to get certified in legal project management, or even general project management, but you should invest enough time to familiarize yourself with the information that is relevant to your desired position. You can list any courses you complete on your resume, and you can contact former employers to let them know of your interest. This shows that you are a self-starter, who is serious about moving from a review attorney to a project manager.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that these tips are not an exhaustive list of ways to transition from review attorney to legal project management, but rather suggestions meant to inspire tangible actions that bear good fruit. Work with purpose, think with acuity, and prepare with sound knowledge. Employing these techniques is sure to benefit you, the motivated reviewer, and, over time, will help distinguish your work from others and move you into a legal project management position.