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Logistical Best Practices for Managing a Document Review

July 3, 2024

Modern organizations, both public and private sector, find themselves needing document services more than ever. Internal investigations, mergers and acquisitions, data breach response, and the discovery process in civil litigation all require the collection and review of electronically stored information (ESI). But as data sources and volumes increase, managing the process efficiently can be challenging. 

At the same time, law firms and legal service providers (LSPs) are facing a squeeze. Legal department budgets are tight. Even though discovery is the most expensive part of litigation, corporate clients are demanding more efficient services delivered on leaner budgets. In some cases, they’re bringing the process in-house, or at least demanding a higher level of oversight of the project, timeline, and budget.

Under these circumstances, efficient document review is more crucial than ever for law firms. With that in mind, here are some best practices for document review from Amy Bowser-Rollins, manager and author of the Litigation Support Guru, a blog providing best practices for nurturing and mentoring less experienced litigation support/e-discovery professionals. 

32 Best Practices For Document Review

1.    As the electronic discovery begins to arrive after collection and the data volume is approximated, discuss with the lead associate (a) how quickly the document review needs to be completed, (b) how many hours per week each review attorney will work (will there be any overtime hours) and (c) how many review attorneys the client is comfortable adding to the team. 

2.    The lead associate will prepare the document review guidelines during the two weeks before the document review project begins. 

3.    Arrange for the document review team to be in one room if at all possible. This is important and it makes the entire process more efficient. 

4.    During the week before the document review begins, coordinate the setup of the document review room including enough computers, monitors, chairs and table space for the entire review team. Coordinate with the software service provider to create user accounts and the proper level of security access. Coordinate with building management to obtain security badges and bathroom keys. 

5.    If the electronic discovery has not been completely processed yet, ask the service provider to provide at least 1,000 documents per review attorney on Day 1. Each review starts out slow as everyone is learning the documents and the review guidelines. Allowing for 12 hour days at 45 documents per hour will enable the review to get started for 2 days while the rest of the data is being processed. 

6.    Most document reviews are reviewed in order by priority custodian, but there are exceptions to this workflow. Make a decision with the lead associate about which documents are a priority to review and let the service provider know as soon as possible. 

7.    If the documents are being batched out for review, a typical batch size is 500 documents. It is not too small and not too large. However, at the beginning of a review, I sometimes use a batch size of 100 documents for a few days to facilitate getting batches in front of the lead associate for quality check as quickly as possible. 

8.    If search terms were used to generate a potentially responsive document review dataset, coordinate with the service provider to make sure the search terms are persistently highlighted in the documents. This helps the attorneys understand why a particular document was included in the review. 

9.    Most document reviews will set aside potentially privileged documents that will be reviewed at a later time based on privilege search terms. However, it is a good idea to persistently highlight the privilege search terms in the potentially responsive documents just in case. 

10.    Coordinate with the lead associate and the service provider to make sure the coding panel is set up before Day 1 of the document review. Keep in mind there may be edits to make immediately following the orientation meeting on Day 1. 

11.    Create an Outlook distribution list that includes all of the review attorneys and litigation support. The lead associate and litigation support will use the distribution list to communicate updates to the entire review team. Litigation support will keep an eye on the content of these emails in order to offer advice for a technical solution. 

12.    Ideally, before the document review begins, forward the production specifications to the service provider, schedule a phone call to discuss data mapping fields from their review database to the production specifications, and finally, request a sample production deliverable of 100 documents that you will quality check. 

13.    Arrange for an orientation meeting on Day 1 for the review attorneys, lead associate/partner, and litigation support to (a) discuss the case overview, (b) discuss the document review guidelines, (c) discuss the software coding panel, (d) answer any questions and (e) make last minute changes to the review guidelines or software coding panel. 

14.    Arrange for a software training session on Day 1 for the review attorneys if they have not used the software previously. 

15.    Arrange for a 1:1 software training session with the lead associate at their convenience if they have not used the software on a prior project. 

16.    Initiate a discussion with the review attorneys about work hours. Find out who the early morning people are and who the night owls are. Based on your experience with the lead associate and their typical schedule, ask the review attorneys to arrive at the office by 9:30am at the latest and to let you know if they will be leaving before 5:00pm. The lead associate needs to be able to call last minute meetings with the document review team and have most of the team present. 

17.    Encourage the review attorneys to collaborate with each other regarding coding decisions. Sometimes one person will understand a topic better than another person. 

18.    Encourage the review attorneys to save up their questions before contacting the lead associate. In other words, avoid an excess of interruptions for the lead associate. 

19.    The litigation support professional should check in often with the review team and ask them a few questions. This encourages open communication. For instance: 
(a)    Do they have everything they need to succeed (e.g., second monitor, comfortable chair, or comfortable room temperature)? 
(b)    Have they experienced any issues with the software (e.g., slowness, problems with searching or locating documents, or problems exporting PDFs or natives for the lead associate)? 
(c)    Have they seen any issues with the document types in the review database (e.g., certain file types won't load consistently, weird characters, or unreadable documents)? 
(d)    Have they experienced any problems with the coding process (e.g., tags that need to be moved upward in the coding panel due to frequent use, enabling or disabling family coding for a particular dataset, or too many privileged documents showing up in potentially responsive documents)? 

20.    Sometimes review attorneys will interpret the review guidelines in two different ways and even after collaborating, they are torn as to which direction is the right one. However, they may not speak up and instead continue to code documents two different ways. As a litigation support liaison, I try to remain approachable and as soon as I hear from at least one of the review attorneys about the issue, I go to the lead associate, present the issue and ask them to provide clarification to the entire review team. Since a document review can be very subjective, the goal is to get everyone on the same page as quickly as possible. 

21.    Encourage the lead associate to quality check all of the reviewed documents in the first 48 hours to make sure the coding is accurate. The more review attorneys on the team, the more important this task is. 

22.    After the lead associate performs the quality check process, they should provide feedback either in person or via email to the entire review team. The feedback should include the database document IDs so that the review attorneys can search for them. The goal is for the review attorneys to get “into the head" of the lead associate as quickly as possible so that the review coding is as accurate as possible. 

23.    Depending on the software solution chosen, there are hopefully some stats available that will allow you to monitor the speed, estimated completion and difficulty of the review (how many coding calls were changed at the quality check stage). Provide this feedback to the lead associate and the review team every few days. 

24.    There will be many questions asked and answered during the first few weeks of the document review and again each time a new set of documents is added to the review. Keep in mind that you may want to institute a tracking log so that all of the document review decisions are documented. 

25.    Throughout the document review, the litigation support professional should perform searches based on the review tags looking for anomalies in the coding such as broken families, documents that are missing coding, documents tagged as “technical issue", etc. Mistakes can happen during the review with misclicks or getting interrupted. Prepare a batch of anomalies and ask one of the review attorneys to fix the document coding. 

26.    Discuss with the lead associate the goal for the first production date and the potential production schedule thereafter. Frequent communication with the lead associate will enable you both to decide a good estimate for how many documents will be included in the first production. 

27.    A week before the production date, pull together a pre-production QC dataset for the lead associate to review for production. 

28.    Approximately 4 days before the production date, finalize the pre-production QC dataset and submit it to the service provider to prepare for production. 

29.    The day before the production date, the service provider will deliver the final production set. Perform the quality check process and provide any feedback to the service provider. 

30.    Treat the review attorneys with respect and the atmosphere in the document review room will be a positive one. 

31.    Be transparent with the review attorneys about the status and timeline of the project. 

32.    Give at least one week's notice when the project is winding down, thus giving the review attorneys time to start finding the next project. 

For more tips to upgrade your document review process, check out Exterro's recent whitepaper, 15 Document Review Principles That Drive Powerful Results.

Amy Bowser-Rollins created in 2011 to give back to the litigation support industry and to fill a gap in the education of "A Day in the Life" of a litigation support professional.

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