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Ode to our Doc Review Friends

November 12, 2007

As you may have noticed, there are a substantial number of young attorneys whose entire job consists of reviewing documents for major litigation cases at large firms.  These attorneys are called document review, contract or temporary attorneys.  Arin Greenwood, a contract attorney, wrote an informative article in Washington City Paper about his experience with “doc review” as well as the experiences of several others.

Greenwood explains: “[he] does not do research, and he does not write; he does not go to court, and he does not meet with clients. The clients whose cases he works on do not know his name. There is no room for promotion in this job…

“On a given day, [contract attorneys] may plow through a few hundred documents—e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, memos, and anything else on a hard drive. Each document appears on their computer screen. They read it, then click one of the buttons on the screen that says “relevant” or “not relevant,” and then they look at the next document.

“This isn’t anyone’s dream job, but more and more lawyers in big cities around the country are finding that seven years of higher education, crushing student loans, and an unfriendly job market have brought them to windowless rooms around the city, where they do well-paid work that sometimes seems to require no more than a law degree, the use of a single index finger, and the ability to sit still for 15 hours a day. Is this being a lawyer? It is now.”

Some of the benefits of doc review are that the money is good (often double what first year associates at many small firms make), there is a lot of flexibility and almost no responsiblity. 

 But it’s not all fun and games for contract attorneys.  According to Tom the Temp there are “blacklists” of temps, jobs can end on a moment’s notice and some large firms are outsourcing contract jobs to India.  The site likens doc review to working in the fields of Soviet Russia and/or a sweatshop (this site includes a specific post where contract attorneys argue about Dechert and Hudson). 

A major concern of many doc reviewers is that if they stay for too long, no other firms will hire them.  Joseph Miller, a contract attorney in Washington, D.C., started a blog specifically to help motivate contract attorneys in their careers and to help address stagnation – after all, there are no promotions in doc review. 

I spoke with a young Philadelphia attorney, who recently left doc review for a job as an associate at a mid-sized firm, to get the scoop on the local doc review scene.  She said, “I had a 401(K),  healthcare and paid days off, but my self esteem took a beating because my non-doc review friends don’t view it as ‘real work.'”

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Lionel Hutz permalink
    November 12, 2007 10:04 pm

    Not real work? It’s real money … jobs for lawyers are tight, only a few get the 100k plus to start the rest are fighting for the leftovers. Saw a posting for a job with the Circuit Court of Baltimore reviewing motions writing memos, paid 52k. Right below it, a posting for a legal secretary for 55k. Also a solo in Fed Hill BMore wanted an attorney, 42k a year. People have bills to pay … doc review is better than busting your tail for nothing

  2. Abbie permalink
    November 14, 2007 3:53 am

    I’ve never heard anyone who doesn’t do doc review say it’s not “real work” (though I don’t doubt that some lawyers have said it…I was a legal services attorney and people seem to think that’s “more like social work than being a lawyer”). I think it’s more something that doc reviewers are concerned about. And as you pointed out, it’s very difficult for all of us to find legal jobs…

  3. November 16, 2007 1:05 am

    Although contract attorney work pays very well when the market is good, it is critical to not rest on one’s laurels. I have worked on many projects and have met many contract attorneys who have so much to offer but sell themselves short. Perhaps career fulfillment stems from being a lawyer, perhaps it stems from something that is completely unrelated. But it is up to individuals to decide. There is no shame in moving out of the law and there is no shame in staying in it–it’s up to you.

  4. November 16, 2007 9:56 pm

    Just a few clarifications…Arin is actually female, and although she was writing about contract attorney work, she’s not actually a contract attorney herself.

    Yes, contract attorney work is not for everyone, but for those who choose to make a living by doing it, evening temporarily, the individual can certainly make a good living out of it. There is major debate whether it can be sustainable as a career path though…

  5. Abbie permalink
    November 17, 2007 1:24 am

    I apologize for the gender confusion! However, the article does say (and I assumed it was Arin herself as that part was written in the first person): “This is all by way of saying that I have also been a temp document reviewer and probably will be again.”

    I think only time will tell whether document review contract attorneys will have a sustainable career path – or at least the volume of positions will be available. It appears that contract attorneys will be around for some time at some firms as McDermott Will is adding “lower-paid” attorneys on a non-partnership track.

  6. Abbie permalink
    December 6, 2007 2:39 am

    In case you are interested, Tom the Temp has compiled a salary chart that includes Philadelphia temp positions at Barrak Rodos, Schiffrin Barroway, Dechert, Pepper Hamilton and Morgan Lewis. According to Tom, the average for Philadelphia is $34.08 an hour at a flat rate and $29.21 an hour + OT.

  7. Bob Loblaw, Attorney at Blah permalink
    December 8, 2007 9:57 pm

    There’s zero chance that the contract attorney situation is sustainable. Even if the jobs aren’t all outsourced to India, computer scientists will design bots to do this kind of work. Most likely, there will be supervisors to QC the bots, but still. Beyond that, even if there is no outsourcing or bots, the American Bar Association does an extremely poor job at keeping supply levels stable. Drexel just opened up a law school. Was that necessary? Is there really a growing demand? If anything, it’s the opposite. New York state has a ridiculous amount of law schools, and another is on its way. The ABA really needs to think before it allows more law schools. If anything, they need to shut some down. The ABA needs to take a hint from the American Medical Association, which actually makes an effort to control the supply of doctors in this country.

    I’ve sometimes joked that “higher education is a scam, perpetrated and perpetuated by banks and colleges, to get their hands on your money.” This is all too true for many people who went to law school and wound up jobless. Somehow, the geniuses that give out law school loans don’t understand that if they’re giving out loans to so many kids, a good percentage of them won’t actually have jobs and won’t be able to pay back those loans. This is potentially the next subprime disaster.

  8. Read Them All permalink
    December 17, 2007 3:02 pm

    Bob Loblaw,
    I disagree with your assessment. Lawyers, the ABA and to a lesser extent clients will never allow a computer to review documents in place of an attorney. Even if a computer is 99% accurate, the chance that the 1% of documents that gets produced and contains harmful information is simply too great a risk to take. The money that is spent by hiring human doc reviewers will be far less than the cost of producing a smoking gun. I think a more likely scenario is that computers will group documents according to the likelihood of being relevant, thus making the doc reviewer’s job easier.

    The other reason I don’t think computers wil take over such projects is money. Law firms make too much money in this way for them to so quickly pull the plug on it. Sure, it may be helpful to the small firms who can’t afford to hire doc reviewers. But big firms make money off of doc reviewers, and that’s motive enough not to hand the work off to an automated computer.

  9. Marlo Stanfield permalink
    April 19, 2008 12:27 am

    Read them all:
    I highly doubt that a human being would be anywhere near as competent as any possible computer program. I myself have been a temp attorney and have done massive amounts of doc review. Let me tell ya…after the first 4/5 hours after you don’t mind the pain radiating from your cornea, you hardly notice/care much about how “relevant” or “irrelevant”, whether some minuscule sentence/diagram should be redacted, or whether something should or shouldn’t be considered a “trade secret”. You just don’t and can’t care much. The chances of human error are much much greater.

  10. December 1, 2008 11:40 pm

    Sustainable career path ?
    You can become a supervisor of other doc reviewers,that’s about it. what are the skills you gain ? Getting to know an industry from its most disagreeable side. (If anybody asks, I do not want to work for frieght forwarders, software companies, equipment manufacturers etc.).

    I have seen people do this job for a long time. They age prematurely.

  11. Doc Review rocks my world! permalink
    December 3, 2008 10:52 pm

    Doc review is the best thing to happen since sliced bread! Of course, one should not plan on working in doc review for more than 2 or 3 years, but what a great 2 -3 years it is! No billable hours requirements, no annoying secretaries (hags), and no having to answer to ego-centric, insecure, Napoleon wannabes (partners). Doc review is a like a paid vacation! But after 2 or 3 years, you should look for a real job! Because new law school grads need to plant their feet!

  12. Don't hog the doc review permalink
    December 4, 2008 6:16 pm

    Doc review is great as a stepping stone to something greater. Don’t count on doing doc review forever because it’s not fair to yourself or new grads looking for an income to pay off their loans and to help them during their transition into the real world. To all of the doc review lifers: shame on you, it’s time to get your butt off that cozy leather chair and start getting those resumes out, or just start your own practice or something. For crying out loud, don’t depress the young, impressionable, recent law school grads by showing them what they will become if they don’t motivate themselves!

  13. August 19, 2009 1:25 am

    I am a serial doc reviewer too. But I do think contract attorneys are generally way cooler than other attorneys. I’m biased, of course.

  14. February 2, 2010 12:29 pm

    Just added this to Oyax ( well Oyax is a social bookmark manager which allows users to easily add sites you like to personal collection of links, categorize those sites with keywords.

  15. Bill permalink
    July 15, 2010 9:42 am

    Read them all:
    I highly doubt that a human being would be anywhere near as competent as any possible computer program. I myself have been a temp attorney and have done massive amounts of doc review. Let me tell ya…after the first 4/5 hours after you don’t mind the pain radiating from your cornea, you hardly notice/care much about how “relevant” or “irrelevant”, whether some minuscule sentence/diagram should be redacted, or whether something should or shouldn’t be considered a “trade secret”. You just don’t and can’t care much. The chances of human error are much much greater.

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