Dealing with a Document Review Assignment From Hell

I just got off a nightmare of a document review. As a former big firm associate, I know first hand what it feels like to be lashed out at by someone for no other reason than they have seniority over you. However, in my new alternative career as a part-time document reviewer and full time comedian and writer, I assumed I would never again have to take abuse as part of this relatively simple job. Unfortunately I was wrong.

Recently, I was subjected to the worst assignment I have ever had to do because of two people that were hungry for power. Here are some tips for document reviewers facing this situation and some for Napoleonic project managers who might want to avoid being hated by everyone in the document review community. Somehow I doubt they will heed my advice.

Tip for document reviewer: don’t complain

If you are in a horrible situation like this, there’s not much you can do. If you attempt to say something, you will probably be removed from the project for being a trouble maker. Unfortunately, there is no document reviewer union, but there should be. Otherwise, we are stuck dealing with abuse without any leverage. If the project seems reasonable or you have some sort of prior relationship with them, you might try to pull them aside and talk to them in a very nice way and let them know they are being a bit rough on everyone. Otherwise, it’s best to bury your head in the sand and hope the project ends quickly—and that you find a better one.

Note to project manager: document reviewers know what they are doing

Document reviewers are experienced, grown up attorneys. Sure there are a few attorneys straight out of law school with little experience, but they have been in the minority until recently. The rest are seasoned veterans who know the ins and outs of this relatively simple job. We have made a trade off for whatever reason and have accept the mundane existence in exchange for meager paychecks. All we ask in return is to be left alone.

Sure, at the beginning of a project, the client can and should bring in the document review attorneys to explain the protocols, but after a few days, the document reviewers should be able to take it from there. They may have a question or two a day that they can email to the associate and maybe a weekly conference call. You don’t need to babysit us. It is a waste of your firm’s resources to have someone sitting in the room, getting paid to monitor us. If you don’t trust us enough to do the work unsupervised, you shouldn’t be hiring us in the first place.

Note to project manager: don’t act like you’re more important than you are

In the situation I was just in, there was a project manager who worked for the staffing company who flew in from NY and literally sat in the middle of the room and watched Youtube videos all day. His main function seemed to be to create a toxic environment where all of the reviewers felt uncomfortable every minute of every day. He encouraged reviewers to “snitch” on each other if they saw anyone check their phone and even made comments like “I can tell if they are checking their phones by watching their neck angles.” Yes, a grown man pretended it was his job to stare at document reviewers necks all day to see if they checked their phones. A project manager’s job is simple: assign batches, and email the firm if necessary. That’s all.

Note to firms: don’t assign a rookie project manager

Don’t assign one of the document reviewers to oversee the others unless you are sure that document reviewer can handle his new-found power. When the project manager from NY finally left, he picked the worst possible candidate to become project manager. In this case, the guy reminded me of the troll from Lord of the Rings: “me wants the ring.” The perceived power went straight to his head.

Instead of doing his own work and minding his own business, he made a poor decision to spend all of his days meddling in other people’s affairs. Every time someone got up to go to the bathroom or make a phone call, he would type up an email reporting someone to the project overlord. He blatantly lied and slandered many of the other reviewers on numerous occasions to the NY project manager, who then simply forwarded these accusations to the reviewers. It created a room filled with animosity. Honestly, he should have been disbarred for his behavior. It turns out the reviewer that was chosen to be project manager had recently been kicked off of a project for incompetence! So perhaps the company didn’t do such a great job in selecting project managers. All this project manager did was alienate himself from all of the other document reviewers in the entire LA community.

Note to firms: don’t threaten the document reviewers

After the first week, we got some feedback or QC—“quality control,” as they call it in document review land. In my experience, it usually takes a few days to iron out the kinks and document review efficiency only goes up with time. The mistakes made in the first few days are usually swiftly eliminated after a few Q and A sessions. In our case, the firm started reviewing our work after two weeks, but was looking at our first few days and then saw more mistakes then they would have liked. However, everyone knew these mistakes had already been corrected. Yet the project manager felt it necessary to threaten the contract attorneys and say that next time he would have to start letting people go. It put everyone on edge, and therefore actually decreased our efficiency. Document reviewers work best when left alone and not under stress.

Note to firms: don’t make us sign in and out everytime we take a 5 minute break

Document review is a long and painful 8 hour day. It is monotonous and soul sucking. A day in document review is around a month in normal person world. It is only made tolerable by getting up every hour or so and taking a walk around the floor, having a conversation here and there. Otherwise you literally spend 8 hours staring at a computer screen punching buttons with no human interaction. That is a cruel punishment. We were made to fill out a time sheet every time we got up. There was no reason given for these new stringent rules. I can say that in my almost a year of doing document review, I have come across good, honest, ethical people trying to get their work done and go home. They aren’t loafing around the office for the most part and they aren’t taking advantage of the lack of monitoring. There is no need to install this kind of Stalinist regime.

Tip for document reviewers: don’t fill out the surveys about the staffing firm, unless you’re sure they are anonymous

After we completed this nightmare of an assignment, we were sent surveys connected through our Gmail. It would have been very tempting to name names and bash these two terrible human beings but all that would come of it would be that you would probably end up getting blacklisted at those staffing places. What you can do—and I suggest this to anyone who was on my project (you know who you are)—is to print out the surveys and mail them in anonymously. These people shouldn’t get away with their behavior and someone out there should know how mistreated we were. Hopefully, I wont get blacklisted for having the guts to speak out against this kind of behavior. As contract attorneys, going forward, we must figure out a way to end these kinds of nightmarish scenarios, but for now, I hope this article helps in any way.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/salz/4451318540/)

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  • Christine

    Can someone in the know please (anonymously) give the name of the staffing agency and/or firm in the comments?

    • Or, send it in a tweet or something? @snarkyatlaw
      As a part-time doc reviewer, I want to know who to stay away from.

  • Whodunit

    Indeed, it was the project from hell. Yet those power hungry managers are at it again. The firms need to understand that it is not in their best intrest to have angry and depressed reviews. Morale is important. In the majority of cases doc reviewers are lawyers who have something else going on (writers, actors, aspiring solo practitionners etc.) They take the work seriously, but they also want to be treated as adults, with law degrees and many times with more accomplishments under their belts then said “project managers.”

  • chuck hunter, esq

    I just drove 6.5 hours to Charlotte, NC only to learn that the project had been placed on hold. My HeadHunter did email me of the delay but that was in the afternoon after I had already left home. My suggestion is that HeadHunters have our cell phones and call us out-of-towners b/c I cannot check my email while on the road (short of stopping and finding a wifi place) and I do not have a Blackberry, etc.

    My other solution is to leave my eamil on at home and have my wife check it every now and then and call me if she sees such a cancellatioin.

    At least I was able to find a cheap $30. @ night hotel and learned the ‘lay of the land’ in Charlotte….

  • I Coded

    I used to code. Are there any doc review projects left in NY?

  • chuck hunter, esq

    There are plenty of ‘yabs’ all over USA. Pls sign up w/ Indeed Job Builder and Careerbuilder and Posse List. They all have daily email alerts. I believe on the 1st two you have to specify that you want ‘document review.’
    Also, CraigsList in the different cities that you are interested in is most helpful.
    I have circa (43) different HeadHunters listed all over the USA for Doc Rev ‘yabs.’

    • I Coded

      Thanks very much and have a very Happy New Year! I hope it holds much more than coding for us:)

  • trixxi.trash

    People say unionizing doc review isn’t feasible. I think it is if you do it small scale. Try to get a major union player to fund a small agency with really low overhead (like, an admin assistant, a sales person, a project manager and an IT person). You’d probably need about a million dollars or so, which is chump change to a nationl union. Even if they won’t lay out that much cash, one will surely lend us some office space, a phone line or two and a few old computers. That’s a start. Cost: low. Chance of minor success: 50/50. Chance of major success: low. Reward of major success: through the freaking roof.

    A unionized review agency could compete with other agencies. We offer our employees more salary/benefits, because nobody is taking a cut of the profits. Reviewers get all the money the firm pays for their services, and pay a small percentage in dues which fund administrative costs. We get in with a union benefit plan.

    We solicit business from pro union companies and employee owned companies that are involved in litigation. We tell them we want to review their documents, and ask them to insist their law firm hire us. Some progressive law firms will probably want to use us for their reviews. Using us might help get them more clients, and will surely get them free publicity. Speking of publicity, we will get loads of it. A unionized doc review project would make the cover of the NYLJ. We also have allies in academia who might be of assistance.

    One crticism I hear is that we could never get all of the doc reviewers to unite. Well, that’s not even what we want. We’re not out to conquer the doc review universe right away. We just want to compete in the market and pull a few projects. Furthermore, placement is based on seniority, so reviewers will benefit by signing up early.

    Some say the conditions on doc review aren’t bad enough to warrant unionizing. Please. $30/hr with no o.t., and we’re seeing more and more ads for $25. being forced to work 10-12 hour days for weeks at a stretch. no job security. no health insurance. unsafe working conditions (believe me, the fire martial would have a bloody field day at some of the sites I’ve worked on).

    Reviewers are pissed off. The time is ripe to do something about it. Send an email to my name at gmail if you’re interested in exploring this further.