The ultimate paralegal guide to Document Review
Legal Career Tips
What is document review? How do you review a legal document? What on earth is tagging? These are all common questions that have plagued the hearts and minds of aspiring legal professionals since records first began.
Document review is one of the legal world’s bread and butter tasks, and requires sifting through all manner of documents for information relevant to a given matter. Reviewing a legal document requires a keen sense of professional judgement, “black letter” legal knowledge, and an eye for detail.
As this is such an important task, we wanted to put together the internet’s best guide to Document Review, so we sat down with four experienced document reviewers, Emmanuel Taiwo, Sabina Gabrielczyk, Giana Narciso, and Michael Elders to get the essential scoop on all things doc review.
What is document review in law?ET: Document review as the name states is the review of legal documents. In a legal paradigm, it is often the amalgamation of the client’s documents where you will be required to pick out key/relevant information that could either hurt or aid the case.
For example, from a PPI Commercial Litigation standpoint, as you progress in a case you will be asked to look at agreements, transactions logs and policy documents to build your client’s case. As a case develops you may receive “disclosure” from opposing parties; these are other sets of relevant legal documents held, that again may either favour or oppose the case. These will usually need to be disclosed to opposing parties for review.
Why is document review important?SG: Document review is important because the process determines what documentation and information are relevant to submit to the opposing party. By reviewing and analysing these documents, it is much easier for lawyers to see which documents contain sensitive, privileged or responsive information and whether disclosing these could breach confidentiality. It's important to have all the facts of a case, so document reviewers need to ensure high levels of attention to detail and accuracy to provide these, whilst being mindful of confidentiality.
ME: Document review is as important as the principle of legal privilege; it is the way in which parties exercise their right to withhold certain documents from other people or the public. Lawyers need to know that communications with their clients are not going to be seen by anyone they do not want them to be seen by, and document reviewers are, in effect, the last line of defence stopping these communications from being sent to people with opposing interests.
How does document review work?ME: Document review used to involve taking the most junior lawyers or trainees and locking them in a basement room until they had read through thousands of paper documents and decided whether they attracted legal privilege and could be withheld from the other party to a claim. Advancements in computing and AI have changed this for the better! Most documents are dealt with automatically and the documents which are left (which can still number into the thousands) are electronically grouped. As a document reviewer you are assigned batches of these documents to categorise. In my experience, this has only involved identifying privilege, however document review can involve reviewing for many other criteria. The other change which has happened is that documents are, again in my experience, all digital, meaning that review no longer mirrors the process of choosing a new Pope and many document reviewers work from home with flexible working hours.
What should I look for in document review?SG: In each project you are given a protocol outlining the nature of the case. This is really informative and gives a picture of the types of documents you will be reviewing and the timeliness of the litigation process. You are also given a criteria, which contains all the things (names, dates, signatures, specific information) that need to be 'tagged' in a document. When reviewing documents, you may come across some that contain a lot of relevant information. These will be tagged of high importance and be compiled in a separate bundle. It's important to tag each document correctly, as this will put them in the correct piles and determine which are submitted to opposing counsel.
ET: Always look for dates, names and reference numbers and make sure they match to the ones pertaining to your case. Again, from a PPI Commercial Litigation standpoint, there are sometimes multiple agreements held under a client account, so the key is to make sure that they all match to the point(s) which you are trying to make. I think it is important to clearly identify the document you’re looking at and to compare the information to similar documents which you may have dealt with. Write down information that may be unusual and out of the norm, as by doing this you can clearly identify the points which require extra attention. Paying attention to the smallest differences can have a big impact as it may be the key to helping your case.
What is the best way to review a legal document?GN: It is always helpful to keep the purpose of the review in mind when reviewing a document, as often this can vary between identifying documents which are relevant to the case, or a privilege review which identifies documents to be withheld. It is best to have a review protocol to hand throughout the review, to ensure that all relevant facts are considered. This is important as in certain larger reviews, there can be a lot of information and this will help when tagging whether the document is responsive to the issues and can be disclosed, redacted or withheld.
When approaching each individual document, it is good practice to get an understanding of the overall purpose of the document and then progress into a line-by-line thorough review, in order to make informed judgement calls. Reviewing alongside a wider team can also be helpful. However, it is important to keep communication channels open to allow consistency in tagging. A second pair of eyes also ensures that the review is completed accurately.
What software is typically used for document review?GN: Relativity is a software that is commonly used by multiple firms when conducting document reviews. This platform is very versatile, and has a range of features that sort and allocate batches of documents to selected reviewers. The tagging of documents can also be tailored to the needs of the review and can filter out documents that have tech issues or are in a foreign language to be flagged.
During larger reviews with time sensitive deadlines, the platform can streamline the process by using AI. Using metrics, we are able to track and predict which documents are most likely to be relevant or privileged, and give priority to these documents. Other features include highlighting key (or common) words, viewing the document history and performing redactions, making it useful when determining relevancy and privilege through text analytics and key word searches.
What is your best piece of advice for reviewing a legal document?ET: The best advice I can provide is to be thorough and to always double check. Yes, it may become tedious, but being thorough is an essential feature for a lawyer. Clients will not always tolerate simple errors being made, and very often simple errors can amass and create big issues if left unchecked. Finally, do not be afraid to ask someone to look over your work! If you are tired and/or had a long day (which will happen in the law), you may miss simple things, like the signing off on email or mistakenly attaching the wrong documents. This in turn can cause delays and in much worse situations a breach of information.
How common are document review jobs?SG: Document review jobs are increasingly common as the legal industry sees a rise in litigation work. I found my document review role through Flex Legal, as an international firm was looking for language speakers to help on a multi-jurisdictional project. If you have a language skill set, document review is a great way to use these skills whilst getting legal work experience. A lot of document review roles are entry level, so you will receive training on an eDiscovery platform when you start. It's a great way to get legal experience under your belt and develop lots of key skills needed for your legal career!
A big thank you to our doc review experts!
Emmanuel Taiwo (ET) has been on a paralegal placement through Flex Legal’s Manchester office since December 2021. His work has dealt heavily with document review and commercial litigation, and he has secured high praise for his work ethic, legal instincts, and ability to rapidly digest new information.
Sabina Gabrielczyk (SG) is currently an Account Management Associate with the Flex Legal HQ team, having previously worked through Flex as a paralegal. She is also trilingual, and has aspirations to qualify in an international law firm.
Giana Narciso (GN) is a former Flex paralegal, who was offered a permanent job as a Legal Solutions Specialist following an incredibly successful paralegal placement. Her commitment to hard work, expanding her skillset, and warm personality has been frequently noted.
Michael Elders (ME) has previously worked on doc review projects through Flex, working within large silver circle teams. Michael blended right in, and consistently shone as an exceptionally bright member of the team. He exudes trustworthiness, has a flair for quick learning, and is highly dependable.