Heaven Or Hell? Document Review Centers

Fellow Contract Attorneys – here’s a brand new post by Andrea, Contract Attorney Central’s regular guest writer, experienced multilingual contract attorney and moderator of the LinkedIn group “e-discovery Multi Lingual Project Attorneys“. Andrea is very keen on revealing the contract attorney industry’s bright and dark sides. For today’s post, bright and dark is quite fitting… document review centers. 

Document Review centers vary greatly from one another depending on the review and where you find yourself working but what they all have in common is that they do reflect the value and professional respect the employer places on its temporary workforce.
I have worked above ground, below ground, in an office with a window, in law firms, at the client’s office, from home and in centers agencies had rented or owned. Some places get 4 stars and others are somewhere off the chart.

4 Stars – In-house at a law firm in Philadelphia – shared office with window and our names on the door. The office and the view from the 21st floor were 5 stars and so was the treatment of us by most people in the office. Not to forget, it also earned my friend Heidi’s gold coffee standard (she will work anywhere where the coffee is good). We were free to use the office facilities (kitchen, bathroom, invited to the Christmas dinner, litigation lunches, etc) and had security cards to enter whenever we wanted to. The fold up tables and shoddy chairs (if we had any – else we just “borrowed” one from the conference rooms) as well as the computers are where a point needs to be deducted. Same firm, different locations – no windows, reviewers either strewn all over the office because there was no room for them or on their separate floor working in pods and when emailing each other because they had found an item in the bathroom not referring to themselves by their names but by identifying themselves by their pod number.
3 Stars – A law firm and at the client’s company. We were seated in conference rooms with state of the art equipment. The associates supervising us treated us like colleagues with respect, kindness and understanding – and a bistro and a pub crawl at the end. Coffee – Heidi would do overtime. Never any passes to enter but at the firm we were free to use office facilities, at the company we were expressly asked not to use the kitchen and the main bathroom. I minded the restriction about the kitchen because I have never, ever seen such a gorgeous kitchen straight out of “Better Living for French Restaurants” (yes, the review was in Paris –yes near the Eiffel Tower) in my life. No kidding I was going to take vacation pictures in there and post them on Facebook – else no one would have believed such a place – industrial sized fridges with see through doors – yes you have to believe me – no photos and thus no Guide Michelin stars from me – merde alors !).

2.5 Stars – Space rented by the agency or its own review center. Some have multiple reviews going on so rooms are separated and doors closed, sometimes locked. Most score off of Heidi’s coffee chart. The equipment is usually not state of the art. Long tables with multiple reviewers sitting next to each other and across from each other, fitting for the assembly line feel to these places. Except for the one run by an agency in New York, I have had some sort of food occasion everywhere, be it pizza to make us work long hours, chocolates to beat the fatigue or thank you breakfasts and thank you good bye dinners. Another agency even threw in wine and had it catered by a top Philadelphia restaurant – WOW! When you do late nights at the Huron center in Miramar, Florida, make sure to park close by. There are packs of stray dogs living in the area which chase after food at that time. Westfield, NJ – parking enforcement is active rain or shine (even at 100F plus – yes, when only mad dogs, Englishmen and Westfield meter maids venture out). Trains are unreliable due to shoddy rails – but should run once an hour (unless you have hurricanes, earthquakes and train accidents as I experienced there in the two months I worked there).

Yes, we now venture below ground – literally.
There is a notorious document review center in Suburban Train Station in Philadelphia I have not worked in but have worked with many people who have. One appears to hear the trains and feels buried alive. Also mouse sightings have been reported – perhaps reports of these really being reviewers turned into mice by a spell put on them by some evil supervisor are exaggerated. Obviously someone is down there voluntarily, reviewers are not.
I did work underground once in DC – a place where this appears to be normal with the Pentagon and other places having office space where no one in his right mind would want to work (yes, this puts some of Washington’s policies into a whole new florescent neon light). I was in-house at a major law firm  which above ground was a ghost town (empty) and had hosted us and other reviews in their office on previous occasions. This time around they wanted to open their own review center and could find no room for the 8 of us in the empty space above ground. So we ended up in the basement like the firm’s dirty little secret, and where no-one knew of us. No joke; we actually scared people who were walking by our door on their way to the gym by coming out of a space they did not know existed. Who would not freak out by strangers living in their basement they did not know about? To add insult to injury we were forced to come in business attire (the guys rebelled by not wearing ties – the little coding mouse that roared!). I did not mind the missing roof tiles which left some of us sitting under exposed wiring and pipes and could deal with not having cell phone reception except that I was nearly fired over it. Someone had tried to call me and being unable to reach me had remembered where I worked and had called the firm. The next day the agency called me to tell me about the incident and how they had to fight for me defending me to the firm which was ready to fire me over the incident. How dare I tell anyone where I work and I had to swear several oath during the ½ h long conversation never to reveal to anyone where I work let alone tell them that it is OK to call me there (hope you can all keep a secret). Like everyone else I got ill down there. Physically and emotionally. Some of us were unable to handle light when resurfacing after our 12 h shifts and would just sit by candle light at home. Many of us started to develop strange habits and only kept going because we were such a fun group, organizing embassy happy hour crawls, singalongs and bake offs. In the beginning I nearly called OSHA on the firm – mentioning something to the temp agency about the Triangle Shirtwaste Factory fire of 1911 (fire trap in a NY sweat shop where 146 workers died because the exits were locked and the place was full of highly flammable materials ). You see our place of work only had one egress.  The door was flanked by about 10 garbage cans about which we complained only to be corrected and learn that they were not filled with garbage but paper shredding. Even better, even more flammable. So I investigated the fire exit – a stair case I found. Just as I was about to enter it someone working down there called me back and informed me that the doors do not open from the inside. Trapped in the staircase in the event of a fire? I was corrected and told that if there ever was a fire they would open the doors upstairs. Wow that made all the difference knowing that if ever anything would happen people upstairs would only need to remember something they never knew – that there were people actually working in the basement. My complaint did work we got transparent illegible signs posted pointing to exits (I was nearly killed as a young girl in a fire and can tell you the smoke turns everything black – you can literally not see the tip of your nose – besides you have to crawl along the floor for the most amount of oxygen. Transparent signs which cannot be read in normal lighting really are not the solution.). I only felt better when those who drove in to work discovered that there was an open door to the parking garage – which is what we all took on our last day at work – when the fire alarm did go off.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. I have heard many funny horror stories of other centers and I am sure so have you.
I do want to end by thanking the associates we had as onsite supervisors, who had to share these spaces with us – all have been wonderful and human, many appreciative of the hard work and long hours we put in. They did try their best to turn even the most dismal spaces into fun places to work in and getting to know us spent many more hours chatting with us then they had anticipated, starting to enjoy our company and to voluntarily spend time with us. Sometimes it is not where you work that matters most but with whom.

You can reach Andrea on her LinkedIn profile and via email at: AKaluzny@aol.com.

What do you think of this assessment? Does it sound familiar? Share your personal document review center story with us or (confidentially) send us some pictures of your best or worst work environment.

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6 thoughts on “Heaven Or Hell? Document Review Centers

  1. Good post! I have seen it all, from the corner office on a high floor at a law form with a view over the city to rats running around the overfilled bins at Hudson’s review center which I would more describe more as a health and safety hazard in itself. Needless to say that when the issue about rats was raised, nothing was done. getting rid of rats does not earn the agency any commission, does it.

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  2. Yes, sad but true. Some also have the charm of factory spaces turned into assembly line sweat shop spaces. Not too bad all things considered. I do draw the line where they become health hazards such as fire traps. I am also upset when the staff visibly wants to get rid of us. Just one of those things that ruin you’re day even when you find out the company is closing shop there and those who did what they could to make as uncomfortable and as unwelcome as possible will soon be looking for new work. Which Hudson office was it?

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  3. Crazy isn’t it? My very first doc review was in a warehouse without central heating, and where the bay door was opened constantly for deliveries — in Feb, in Michigan. WHAT? Why are we treated like this, and why do we stand for it?

    One doc review was in an annex building, where the heat for some reason didn’t work (or got turned off at night, we don’t know which) When I walked in on a freezing January day and it was colder inside than out, I called my agency and said “fix it, or I’m outta here.”

    Thankfully, it’s gotten SO much better over the years. Beautiful “real estate” with nice working conditions and even good views sometimes.

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  4. Pingback: Top 5 Tips To Stay Healthy On Endless Document Review Weeks | CONTRACT ATTORNEY CENTRAL

  5. I am in litigation support and I manage document reviews at my firm. I have learned from our document review attorneys some of the terminology and nicknames that have been created within the document review industry. They are quite amusing. I cringe when I hear how they are being treated at some of the other firms.

    I received an e-mail once from one of our regulars. He said “I am in a pod of 12”. “I have to check my phone before I can enter my pod.” “Perhaps I should consider wearing green to work since I am apparently a pea in a pod.”

    I laughed but I also shook my head. I have met some wonderful document review attorneys and I never forget that “they are people too”. Smile.

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    • Thanks for stopping by Amy – love the pea in a pod comment – that’s very funny.
      It is always good to hear from somebody who is working in the e-discovery industry too and who has a more positive opinion about contract attorneys. At the end of the day you get what you give and typically the messy projects (i.e. large turnaround of contract attorneys, people jumping ship, bad work products or lack of motivation) typically take place in outsourcing agencies where contract attorneys are considered as assembly line workers in a sausage factory, degraded to numbers and treated like children. Wondering how long it takes for those outfits to realize that a basic level of professionalism and appreciation will lead to much better work products to be presented to the end client.

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