When attorneys think back to law school orientation or the pitch the school used to convince them to attend, they probably remember a spiel about all of the wonderful things a person can do with a law degree. As safe a bet as that might be, the safer bet would be that no one ever mentioned document review as a possible career path.
Most readers would probably agree that, in the legal community, there's a certain stigma to doing doc review professionally. So when Texas Lawyer asked whether I'd be willing to write about my doc review experience, I was a little apprehensive.
Did I want the world to know that I couldn't find a "real" job, with "real" clients and a "real" paycheck? Frankly, as a recent law school grad, I had debated whether my doc review job would even go on my resume, and now I was being asked to advertise it to every potential employer in Texas.
As it turned out, my perception of reality wasn't quite aligned with reality itself. I did include doc review on my resume, but it certainly didn't make me unhirable. Quite the opposite -- it actually helped me build my resume, which in turn helped me get a job at a great firm. Just as importantly, it taught me a set of skills that I could take forward into my career.
So, how was I able to build my resume by doing doc review? It started with the realization that the job listing needed a better description than just "reviewed documents." I needed more responsibility, which, as it turned out, wasn't extremely difficult to get. Doc review is not unlike most other jobs -- advancement requires attrition and merit.
Attrition is out of a doc reviewer's control. People quit or are let go; the project ends or its scope changes. Whatever the reasons, the number of people on the project dwindles over time. Those folks may be replaced eventually, but they may not. In any case, if there is ever more complex work to be done, the general rule seems to be that it goes to those with seniority.
What a doc review attorney can control is his or her merit. Before employers and supervisors decide to advance a candidate within the organization, they evaluate the candidate's merit. The definition of merit varies depending on the position; it may mean being a fast document reviewer, a good researcher and writer, or a natural leader. But whatever the position, there are three things an attorney must understand to succeed: the case, the documents and the review medium.
Understand the case. The majority of doc review projects arise out of litigation. That is, one side or the other produces the documents during discovery. If either side needs to hire professional doc reviewers, chances are that the litigation is large, complex or both. By large, I mean that the scope of discovery can cover hundreds of thousands or even millions of pages.
To move through these documents thoroughly and efficiently, a doc reviewer needs a deep understanding of the case. The reviewer most likely will have access to the pleadings, which provide a good overview of the factual allegations, claims and defenses. The reviewer's primary goal is to find documents that factually support the elements of these claims and defenses. If, for example, one party alleges theft of trade secrets, a document produced by the other party discussing those secrets is legally significant.
The ambitious doc reviewer should study thoroughly whatever materials supervisors provide, so he can familiarize himself with the case. If the project allows workers to take materials home, he should do so. If that's not possible, the reviewer at least should read up on areas of law central to the case. This is especially true for those reviewers who are fresh out of law school, like I was. Reading up on the relevant areas of law helped me scale the learning curve faster than everyone else.