It’s Time to Rethink Document Review
Written By Robin Thompson
As a market strategist and industry forecaster, part of my passion is to continually challenge our industry’s “we’ve always done it that way” mentality. From using the Six-Sigma process to constantly improve data analysis of new buying groups and closeable leads to weighing marketing heavily in transparent data science and neuroscience, I continue to drive those challenges and discoveries.
Yesterday, I had a great conversation with a long-time colleague in the industry. We talked about many things, including long-overdue changes that I think the industry should consider, including a long-overdue shift in document review. For several years now, I’ve felt the evolution of the document review business. I finally concluded that calling the process of charging a client $X from a predetermined price model—all-in, per GB, and other service models—document review no longer describes the valuable billable service provided. The term document review does not capture the service in its entirety, which can include unique applications of processes applied and ideated by SMEs artificial intelligence and technology.
Instead of referring to this process as document review, it would serve us better to use a term like “document interrogation” or “document investigation.” When comparing the historical and current-day definitions of “document review,” “document interrogation,” or “document investigation,” my reasoning for this need for change becomes more evident. I realize everyone in our industry looks back on this service through the lens of a half-century career, but looking back twenty years will illustrate the point.
By and large, the word review is passive and more appropriate to how we responded to document requests in the early days of my career, before the electronic creation of documents. Two decades ago, I was a manager in a corporate legal department in the document production unit. During those native production days, filled with materials like paper, microfiche or film, finding responsive documents was highly manual. Most productions involved off-site storage, meaning someone read through the storage logs to locate a particular document. Those logs were often prepared by temporary workers who had no advantage of understanding the legal or regulatory environment and were given a character count limit to describe a box. The boxes whose descriptions contained responsive documents were retrieved from off-site storage for attorney reviewers to read, page by page, for responsiveness, and if necessary, redaction. The results of this process were wholly subject to an individual’s judgment. The larger the case and document universe to review, the more “bodies were thrown at the review process.”
While document creation exploded during the digital transformation, court timelines did not allow extended time for review. As a result, clients would be better served by the creation and continued innovation of technology to do the manual work for the client instead of escalating bills for the manual review of documents. Today, we use a continually evolving arsenal of sophisticated technology combined with artificial intelligence when tackling document review. This process is typically guided by a legal and technology expert who effectively applies these tools to get to the documents that matter as quickly as possible. In addition, these experts often initiate technology and process improvement to ensure the process remains up to date. From the first Petri dish  report produced by Attenex, which associated nouns and noun phrases, we have continued to seek out new ways to advance our industry in data interrogation across the organization. Nevertheless, we still need an expert legal technologist to apply both technology and artificial intelligence to achieve accurate results and continue to innovate better ways of achieving the best results.
I end where we began: the term review no longer describes the actionable service we provide, nor does it represent a valuable billable service. What does this mean for the process and the industry? As the process itself evolves, so must the way that we describe it. In short, it suggests that it’s time to describe this actionable, evolving service as “document interrogation” or “document investigation.” What do you think?
 For those who don’t remember the arrival of Attenex to the market, my favorite story when selling the solution was to share how the product received its clever name. The impetus to design the product came from a large, document-intensive suit involving Microsoft. Microsoft’s CEO expressed “displeasure” at the inefficiency of document review speeds and the high bills for the same from outside counsel. Microsoft wanted the documents reviewed ten times faster – at 10 X. Original story here.
About the author:
Robin Athlyn Thompson, MBA is an award-winning market strategist, industry forecaster, and power influencer in the information as an asset and risk-related industries. She founded kairos strategy, where she is a fractional CMO or retained strategist. Before founding kairos, Robin spent several decades managing large-scale litigation, records, information management, managing law firms and corporate legal firms, and was a top legal services sales professional and top legal and cyber marketing professional. She is currently working on her doctoral dissertation on the Red Queen Effect of our industry.
For those of us who learned how to type on a manual typewriter, shorthand is a cherished friend. Read about my professional journey and how shorthand played an influential role.