There was a time when the managed review portion of e-discovery projects—or “document review,” as it’s colloquially known to those who practice it—was conducted exclusively in the dowdy back rooms of legal staffing agencies. Teams of attorneys hired on contract would sit at laminate classroom-style tables, usually shoulder to shoulder and often amid clutter, scrolling through hundreds of electronic files a day. It was understood, but still repeated on every review, that all work took place inside that room to safeguard clients’ confidential information.
Then COVID-19 hit. And like so many other companies around the world, law firms and staffing agencies were forced to find a way to conduct business remotely.
Three years after the reviews went home, law firms are discovering that the remote model they once viewed with great suspicion can enhance rather than endanger their projects. As a result, reviews are showing no signs of ever returning exclusively to the back room.
“I definitely think pre-COVID, the idea of remote litigation document review was really unusual,” says Ryan Guilds, counsel at Arnold & Porter. “There were significant concerns about security, a desire to make sure there was proper supervision, and the ability to quickly and efficiently answer questions. I think most people hadn’t gotten over the hurdles that technology could bring.”
Guilds was overseeing a major document review project with several hundred reviewers in two locations when the pandemic hit. He recalls that there was great consternation at Arnold & Porter around moving such a massive undertaking outside the review room. He credits the staffing agency running the project, Hire Counsel, with helping get the firm over that hump, noting it “got into the weeds” ensuring reviewers had the proper equipment to take home and setting up additional layers of security and quality control to show the firm the project would not suffer during remote work.
“I think we got from concerns, in a matter of weeks, to a level of comfort,” Guilds says.
Once firms reached that comfort level, they never looked back.
“It’s a very rare occasion when someone comes up and asks for a review in a brick-and-mortar building,” says Eric Crawley, senior vice president of legal solutions at Epiq, one of several staffing agencies that assembles teams of contract attorneys to conduct document review projects.