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March 14, 2012

The Future of the Review Attorney

Astronauts_laptop_128With the advent of computer-assisted review, it is difficult to know how the review industry will ultimately be impacted. Certainly, we can infer that the days of 100-attorney reviews that go on for months on end are coming to a conclusion.

Does this increased efficiency bode that more "microwave" reviews will take place, perhaps with clients electing to review sets of documents that would not have previously been reviewed due to higher cost?

What will become of the current field of attorneys that have become dependent on review projects to sustain their legal careers while they await more permanent employment? Will large firms continue to sustain massive contract review staffs, or will review specialists develop niche areas of skills, such as securities, or patent law?

Hard to predict, but events certainly point toward a contraction in the legal industry, with fewer jobs available to those who don't secure law firm employment upon graduation.

A problematic part of attorney review is the disparity between the function vendors provide for clients and the educational requirement expected of those who participate in the process, i.e. nobody went to law school to review documents on a computer all day.

As review teams shrink, national e-discovery vendors like Minnesota-based NightOwl now operate more like a small law firm where they have created a collegial environment on the review floor that fosters collaboration between reviewers and staff and treats each reviewer as an important part of the legal process.

They also designate a "lead attorney" on each review project. These attorneys are retained to understand not only the complexities of the project they are working on, but also to share expertise with outside counsel on the nuances of the review process.

Document seeding in computer assisted review will require both experienced and skilled attorneys. To that end, I see review teams becoming lean and mean and able to navigate and understand the nuances of computer assisted review in order to avoid garbage in, garbage out.

The future of document review may actually turn out to be healthy for review attorneys as operations start to look less like sweatshops and more like what NightOwl is doing.

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