I often think of document reviewers as the unsung heroes of our industry. They diligently sort the wheat from the chaff, categorizing documents into neat virtual piles for the legal teams’ consumption. Unfortunately, the last two years have seen the majority of review teams working remotely and, therefore, missing out somewhat on the camaraderie of the review room. Nevertheless, productivity and quality have not suffered, and this amplifies the professionalism and dedication our review teams demonstrate daily. This leads me to ask – is it time to rethink the role of the document reviewer, and are clients making the most of the knowledge and skills that reviewers have?
Traditionally, the division of labor between law firms and document review providers has been relatively well defined; the lawyer briefs the review team, and then the reviewers read and tag documents for relevance, issues, privilege, etc. Depending on the review’s objective (litigation, regulatory, internal investigation, etc.), the lawyer will then undertake some form of second-level review of relevant material to understand the evidence, the “story.” Documents are then produced to the other side or a regulator.
What happens after that generally involves something other than the original review team.
The team has been immersed in the documents, reading the communications, getting to know the custodians through their chats, emails, and Teams messages, gaining an understanding not only of the material but often the culture of an organization and how the relationships between individual’s work. But, unfortunately, all of that knowledge and insight into the facts of the matter are no longer leveraged as the subsequent phases of the case (a chronology, document summaries, witness preparation, etc.) are dealt with by the trainees and lawyers.
At Integreon, we have seen a definite shift in how our review teams are utilized, especially with our corporate and managed services clients. The benefits that a dedicated, experienced team can bring to a matter overall are immense – from early data assessment and deep dive fact-finding workflows to the building of case chronologies for the legal teams to use.
Early data insights & deep dive investigations
As the data collected for disputes and investigations increases in volume and complexity, its review and analysis must focus on the right areas to mitigate costs and risk. A skilled and well-briefed review team has the ability to leverage their technology and review skills to bring categories of documents to the attention of the legal team and can then decide what needs to undergo a thorough review and what can be either sampled or discarded, even more so if the review team has worked with the client previously and knows their data and its nuances. Engaging a review team in these early stages benefits the legal team and the matter, as they become immersed in the documents and the story from the outset.
A deep dive into the documents in the early stages of a matter can yield beneficial information that can help inform the review strategy and the case itself.
For example, you are having reviewers run targeted searches around key dates and individuals and then reviewing the results or using analytics to home in on documents responding to particular issues. Time spent at the beginning of a matter mining into the data with experienced eyes and technical know-how can have a huge impact on the review’s outcome.
Leveraging the expertise and case knowledge of the review team
It makes sense both from an efficiency and a cost perspective. The review team is in amongst the documents from day one, and they understand the story, what is important, and what the red herrings are.
A chronology can help the case team quickly understand the key events and the supporting evidence around them. It can cover the full timeline of the dispute or focus on critical periods or key individuals. A well-briefed review team can quickly compile a chronology that includes extracts from the document or a brief summary of each event and links to the supporting documents. This can be done within the review platform or by using a spreadsheet or table.
Witness bundle preparation requires knowledge about the individuals involved and how they interact with one another, the issues of the case, and the evidence to support or refute them. Working under the legal team’s guidance, the reviewers can provide valuable support in assembling “virtual” bundles to prepare witnesses.
Creating chronologies and assisting with witness bundles are a natural extension of what the review team offers.
Document review work can often be transactional in nature. Nevertheless, your review provider can be a true partner, getting into the documents early, taking care of the heavy lifting that first pass review can require, and then providing knowledgeable insights through the subsequent stages of a dispute or investigation.