Going for Gold in Document Review: Good Process is Key


by Phoebe Gebre

In a perfect document review scenario, our clients engage us early, at the beginning of their strategy design – even before collections are initiated. Then once the data is processed and ready for review, we go through all the various planning and execution stages of the document review project together, including a kick off call to discuss scheduling and logistics, followed by protocol creation with counsel, onboarding of the team, team training, and then a “rinse and repeat” process of query and calibration, until we finally reach doc review gold — steady state. After that, it is simply a matter of following our quality control processes, and ensuring counsel makes any needed adjustments along the way. Under this perfect scenario, we arrive at the production phase with plenty of time remaining to make any final adjustments required by counsel. We also usually find ourselves well ahead of the court-imposed deadline.

If only all document review projects could be just like this.

It's not that the previous scenario does not happen. Surprisingly, it actually does, and more often than you might think, especially with our enterprise clients who have an established relationship with us. These “perfect” projects are the ones we routinely complete on time, with documents reviewed under a high level of accuracy because counsel has had time to adjust the protocol and clarify the guidance via query logs. They have had time to review the team's work and feel comfortable when they approve the final production set.

But how about when we don't have the luxury of time? How about when there is a tight production deadline because maybe counsel procrastinated, or there was some processing error, or perhaps because the impetus to start early was just not there?

Maybe it is Friday at 5pm and we are given five days to review 100k documents and produce everything that is responsive (true story – as retold below).

These are the situations when our processes really get tested and show their effectiveness. All of our meticulously planned processes with clients kick into high gear and drive us to deliver even greater results. This is when we can really shine.

About that true story, we received a call on a Friday at 5pm with a production deadline set for the following Wednesday, just five days out. With trained staff at the ready, we were able to commit to a kickoff at 7pm that same day with a team of 30. We worked with counsel to come up with a review protocol, offering suggestions regarding workflow as well as clarifications regarding the substantive instructions of the review. The protocol was ready by 6:45 pm, counsel then trained the team at 7pm and the review started in earnest the very next morning on Saturday.

By Saturday evening, after the first full day of review, and only 24 hours after the initial inquiry call, we were able to send counsel a status report with summaries of documents, as well as several query logs to make sure we were on track. We had even edited the review protocol and added issue codes to address new issues which came up that counsel wanted to track. The status report also included other standard items, noting how the documents had been coded and links to query and calibration logs for the day.

In addition, the status report we sent that first day included a high level process map that tracked the progress of each custodian in the workflow as we worked towards production. At the end of Day 1, Saturday, the client, counsel, data vendor project managers and other stakeholders, all had a bird's eye view of what was completed that day and what was coming up for the next day.

The above example demonstrates how effective a well-trained and well planned review can be, even if the process must be sped up by short production deadlines or due to other obstacles that pop up. Our standard processes worked to ensure that we delivered as promised, without sacrificing accuracy or consistency. Additionally, the insight that we were able to provide to our client within the first couple of days after starting the review proved invaluable for the strategic decisions that counsel had to make on Monday morning.

From this story, the importance of standardized and repeatable processes is clear. We also can see the importance of transparency in the review process. Our communication and reports, which are already valuable tools because of their clarity and conciseness, are even more crucial when time is of the essence: A summary of documents that we mark responsive and nonresponsive are included as part of a standard status report so that both associates and partner level counsel (who do not necessarily review documents in the platform), as well as the client, are able to quickly assess what the team has been reviewing and whether we are on the right track.

While I wouldn’t describe a Friday 5 pm call with a Saturday start and a Wednesday deadline document review as a perfect scenario, I’d certainly say that our experience, processes and excellent teamwork delivered a gold medal performance!

Phoebe Gebre is Director of Legal Services at Integreon and responsible for the management of all document review projects carried out from the company’s global delivery center in Austin, Texas. Since 2010, she has managed review teams for onshore projects in New York, Arlington and Austin, as well as offshore reviews in Mumbai and Noida. She has a J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law and dual bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy and Computer Information Systems from Georgia State University. She is admitted to practice law in the states of New York and New Jersey.

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