How To (Never) Become a Master of the Document Review Platform Universe or Where is your PhD for the Document Coding Exercise?  

This is the yet another part of Andrea’s very popular post series, in which she discusses the amazing (new?) world of document review specialisation and increasing demands on document review qualifications and abilities. Grab a coffee (make sure it’s not Irish!), sit back and take a few moments to enjoy! Please let us know what your experience or thoughts are by leaving a comment at the bottom of the post.

Almost since my first coding job, have I been asked which platform I am familiar with. As any of you know (but few of the clients and agencies have come to realize) they are all the same. Some have a couple of different functions and most are altered to fit the client’s needs. Nothing so spectacularly different that could not be handled in an hour or two of training.  Yet, firms and agencies prefer not to have to invest even this much time in us or have no-one on staff who understands the system or knows how to train people. For a while everything seemed to be Kroll, while now the platform-du-jour appears to be Relativity. No idea how that happened. I guess it is a matter of the bottom line and whoever gives the firms the best deal who comes out on top. However, having experience on these platforms makes you more valuable and can mean the difference between landing this job or not. So it is good advice to take mini jobs, which provide such training in order to land the better ones later on.

I have now even come across ads requiring attorneys with substantive or educational experience in certain fields  (science degrees, etc) or requiring several years of document review experience in a specific field. Yes, I am still talking about document review jobs! The optimist in me views this as an indication that we are slowly emerging as professionals with valuable skill sets, the pessimist says that they are just too lazy to properly train us and that this will keep many new document reviewers from gaining some additional skills. Pretty soon there will be pharmaceutical document reviewers and others for financial matters (actually happening already). As both the banking and pharmaceutical industry tend to buy each other’s competition up, the market for these expert coders becomes smaller and smaller and pretty soon many reviewers will find themselves conflicted out of more jobs that they could still obtain. So my advice would be to try to get jobs for the defendants (the companies being sued by those hurt by their drugs or financial products – they will continue to do business and thus continue to be sued while plaintiff firms come and go and never have enough funding). It will extend your professional life working these specific suits.

In the US it matters a lot which school you attended, what grades you obtained and where you have worked.  We have long since resigned ourselves to the fact that anyone who did not attend a top tier school and outperformed 95% of his classmates stands little chance of landing a position in a top law firm.  However, now ads look for these people for document reviews. Many still rather tentatively say that top tier school grads and attorneys with top law firm experience are always preferred over others seeking to attract such candidates outright. Of late I had to submit my transcript for the first time (please, do not ask how long it took me to crack my law school password 9 years after graduation) and I have found myself too intimidated to apply for certain gigs as there is no way to make my school a first tier one retroactively unless I abbreviate it to NSU, hoping no one notices the Florida rather than the more prestigious New York address. The sad thing is that there are actually candidates who fit the bill. I have worked with them.  

So what is the moral of the story? Times are getting tougher and competition in the document review and agency world is intensifying. When this happens people try to distinguish themselves and objective criteria such as test results and qualifications are usually the method of choice. So sign those crazy forms – the worst-case scenario is that they mean what they say but remember it is only for a very temporary job and will not last.

In relation to my previous post in this series, smile when naive agents compliment you on your English, which is almost good enough to perform English document review, and do not give in to the temptation of pointing out your US/UK law degrees and bar passage, nor should you ask them to speak louder and slower while trying to lend a foreign accent to your English. Smile when confused agents inform you that you do not seem to have any decent command of your native tongue as per their infallible language tests. Add skills and fields of interest outside the law, become an expert in a field, which will continue to be sued. Add qualifications and polish up your experience. Never give up. Stay honest but if necessary be creative – I am considering a major donation to Harvard Law – something like my entire law school. Yes, even post graduation I have not given up on yet obtaining that all-important first tier degree. Do not fear but welcome the fact that you finally get to compete with all of those Ivy Leaguers and ex-top law firm big shots on a level clicking field. And above all cheer up but stay off of anything that could help you do so for you may end up having to pass sobriety tests. This said, please someone pass me the cup before I celebrate my latest ALTA score.

Andrea’s posts have been very engaging with Contract Attorney Central readers and we can see why. If you would like to get in touch with Andrea, you can either leave a comment below,  connect with her via her LinkedIn profile and via email at:

Over to you, reader: what do you think about this new dawn of document review specialisation and the increasing demands placed by recruiting firms and agents on our knowledge? Let us have your thoughts and share any experiences you may have by leaving a comment below. As always, we’d love to hear from you!

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15 thoughts on “How To (Never) Become a Master of the Document Review Platform Universe or Where is your PhD for the Document Coding Exercise?  

  1. Great post. Keep up the good fight, Andrea. Don’t let the bastards get you down. The whole conflicts thing is ridiculous. We’re bound by confidentiality obligations. Re the database programs, one can become proficient in them within a few days.

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    • Thanks Matt – you are my inspiration :-).
      True about the conflicts check – here we have lots of rules of ethics about it so – so in that regard they have no choice. Other firms take it even further and treat you as if you were an actual associate with potential knowledge of other cases the firm handled. Only true legal virgins survive those checks.True about the platforms – not rocket science.

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    • Was hoping to get you started Peter :-) – no please the less said about ALTA the better :-). I do mind the guess work more than the fact that it is not review specific. When no answer seems to be correct or several could be. You start translating it back to English to figure out if there is a difference between the 2 in the original where the correct answer should be based on. It is just a far cry from actually validating your language skills and ability to perform the review. In my experience everyday language contained in e mails is much harder for non-natives than anything in offical, well written, carefully crafted documents which use words you can, if need be, look up in a dictionary (there are special dictionaries for various industries for industry jargon – slang is more comlicated).

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  2. I guess that I am “one of those” that has become an ultra specialist. I am a physician and a forensic document examiner. I specialize in detecting (or disproving) alterations in medical records. I do all types of document examination, but my background allows me this unique specialization. In Med-Mal cases, this can be invaluable for either side where spoliation is a concern.

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    • Hi Matthew, thanks for your comment. Pursuing professional development is indeed the bread and butter in any industry in order to secure better positions. Eventhough the contract attorney work is sometime mundaine, better and more opportunites come up for those who add more skills to their resume. What skills are you trying to add?
      Cheers, CAC

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    • Thank you so much Matthew! Yes, who knew about this crazy niche in law school. At first you think it is temporary and then you realize it is getting to be your career – glad you are treating it this way. Best of luck to you as well!

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  3. Hi Andrea:

    It is my first time visiting your blog and I enjoyed very much reading it. Thanks to Linkedin, someone posted a hyperlink.

    I just moved to the Philly Area and I have filled the application forms for the three top recruiting agencies. I have noticed that some companies are targeting people with a vast experience in document review projects and/or fields. Also, you are right about stating that some ads are addressed to Ivy Leagues or top ranking law students. The market seems to be narrowing for those who never went to Harvard, Yale and their alike. However, I believe that we, as job seekers, must find inspiration from other venues, such as marketing companies, for example. When they work with a new product they start by enhancing the brand (being the brand our experience in handling a specific matter or field of law, such as experience in spoliation and/or all stages of discovery) and then they launch it to the public (in our case a cover letter and/or interview). As I have read many times in Linkedin, we are a “good” that we need to marketed because no one else will do it for us.

    Anyhow, I really enjoyed your blog and hope I can read more about your experiences.

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    • Welcome to Contract Attorney Central, Jaime! That someone who posted Andrea’s work on LinkedIn must have been me. I am one of the guys behind this blog.
      You are making a great point here – marketing oneself becomes more and more impoartant. Self-marketing is a must in the freelance industry and we contract attorneys and document reviewers could def play some catch up here. At the present we are more seen as a big bunch of workforce and hence securing a good and longterm gig is a bit like a lottery win, mainly based on luck (ie being on the mind of the particular recruiter at a particular time). So best way to stand out of the crowd would be networking, polishing your resume, getting your profile out there and following up on potential leads. I know of a few people here in London who are seen as ‘THE GUY’ in the doc review circus. They seem always to get on the best projects and hear of opportunities before the bunch does. All of those guys are very proactive, try to make themselves a name in the field and are very knowledgeable when it comes to databases and now predictive coding. Bottom line: get ahead of the crowd. All the best, CAC

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      • Thanks Trevor! Great advice as always! Yes, true about standing out and networking – I call it the Brian factor (after someone I know in DC who has perfected this to an art and who is rarely beween jobs for more than a week at a time). Have you noticed any particular trends in London people should pay attention to to stay ahead of the curve?

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  4. Hi again Jaime, Welcome to Philly and the world of blogs :-) and of course the exciting new and changing world of document review!!!!! I agree with what you say about self promotion and networking. It is getting to be more and more necessary. The market place is changing and we have to adapt and also come to view our niche as an actual profession and career to be taken seriously and not some temporary type of work until we get a real job. For many of us this is turning into a career but we are reluctant to treat it as such. It does not help that we are not held in high regard but that is also our fault. If we allow people to treat us that way we cannot break that cycle. The truth is we are all law school survivors (in spite of the best efforts to the contrary of many of our mad professors :-)) and attorneys who have passed the bar, working in a part of the legal industry which is not just turning into the bread and butter of many agencies and firms but which can spell the difference between survival and going under for many a top law firm (no that is from personal experience and not some general statement thrown in here – some of these lenghty mega reviews can net them several $100 million at a time). So I very much applaud your inteligent approach. You could not have gotten that in law school :-) – not the place where they teach this necessary survival skill to the detriment of many new grads. I just wrote an article which Trevor will publish in the next few weeks (I hope :-)) about my start (accidental stumbling into the field rather than a carefully calculated deliberate move) where I also try to give some advice – mainly chill – it is not that difficult to get started but not as fast as many expect either. Registering with many/all agencies is important and so is trying to establish a good rapport with the agents (the age old saying about it not being about what you know but who you know). Firms are not particularly faithful to any given agency so do not just register with the top ones. You will be working for the one which gets to staff the review – whichever one that may end up being (yes, usually one of the top ones is likely to be the one prevailing in the competition between agencies to actually land the job many advertise simultaniously and the agency which prevails may change over time just as platforms fall in and out of favor. I would say it also has a lot to do with the agent deeling with the firms themselves.). Yes, we are the merchandize they rent out and they prefer to know us / be familiar with our work so that they look good to their clients. Once you have gotten your foot in the door it gets easier and that first job will come – there are always reviews which need staffing last minute and they will call on everyone they can get a hold of that day. Philly is not a strong doc review market and the market is changing rapidly right now. More and more people/firms/agencies are trying to get into it making it more confusing and challenging for those less able to adapt and to seek opportunity in change. It is always good advice not to follow good advice to a T as it is given to everyone and everyone seeks to follow it as if it were the magic key to success when in reality the road most traveled is by sheer definition overcrowded and backed up. So looking for a side road (niche, specialization) to get ahead is my best advice. I have taken LinkedIn more seriously following a on line CLE I did not sleep through (they have some interesting subjects and good speakers), and since I was on the computer anyhow…worked on my profile. It made me realize how much I know, all I have done/achieved already and things spun off from there. I have met many interesting fellow professionals through it who have taken the initiative to stand out and seek new or additional opportunities. Trevor, was one of the first. He is most certainly someone you can learn a lot from. Do not stress out over Ivy Leaguers and people let go from top firms – most do not stick around for long – they will try to get back into the normal market and if they cannot will not distinguish themselves that much to being prefered over you. It is just a Pavlovian response big law firms (the dinasaurs of the legal world) have. They are used to being swamped with CVs and in an effort to cut down on how many they have to look at sort out those who do not meet some top criteria they established a long time ago (it just looked good to have associates from top schools when in reality it can mean anything from mega IQ to daddy has money). It also helps to have friends who inform you of jobs on offer and trends – like this year has really not been a good one – lots of jobs postponed or not happening (helps to know that to see it is not your approach which does not land you the job). You see I can go on and on forever till I have to send this comment to Tevor to edit to be turned into an article (actually the origin of some of my articles) and ask to put a cartoon to – which reminds me…anything you would like me to write about in terms of advice? I do not know everything but have some experience by now and would be happy to share. I wrote the article I mentioned here because I had some exchange with newer reviewers and realized that they might need some advice, cheering up (and if nothing else something to smile about and the knowledge that they are certainly not alone out there and that we have all been there and are perhaps only one step ahead of newcomers). Document reviewers for the most part are a very helpful bunch, nice people who like to help each other. Brief – welcome Jaime and I am looking forward to networking with you, hearing more about your experience and to witness your career take off and then learn from you.

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