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Managed Review vs. Unmanaged Review: Which One’s Right For You?

Complex litigation cannot happen without document review. Document review cannot happen without reviewers. This raises a lot of questions that most lawyers never learned about in law school: Which reviewers do you hire? What parts of review can be trusted to technology, and what parts absolutely have to be done by humans? What work requires actual attorneys, and what work is better left to other litigation support professionals? 

There’s a myriad of considerations that go into these decisions depending on the case at hand and the capabilities of that particular legal team. One of those decisions is “who should make all the other decisions?” When legal teams are either spread too thin or simply want someone with a different realm of expertise, managed review services can be a great for attorneys and their clients.

What eDiscovery Review Teams Do vs. What Lawyers Do

Lawyers are good at a lot of things. They tend to be good researchers, and good at drawing connections between seemingly unconnected pieces of evidence. Unfortunately, those relevant pieces of evidence don’t just show up at a lawyer’s doorstep all wrapped up with a bow. Usually, they’re hidden somewhere in a massive pile of data.

If your legal case is a jigsaw puzzle, most lawyers could probably put that puzzle together just fine if there are relatively few pieces and they all come in the same box. Now, imagine the pieces of the puzzle that you want to make are in a box with thousands of other pieces that make up less relevant pictures. What happens when you’re not even 100% sure you have all the right pieces to make the picture you want to make? Can you find other pieces along the way that might make other helpful pictures?

It would be impossible for any one person to make their chosen puzzle in such a scenario. Instead, you need a coordinated team of people going through documents and coding them as relevant. These reviewers aren’t usually the ones making calls about big picture legal strategy, but they know what kinds of puzzle pieces to look for so that those other attorneys can actually put a picture together.

Finding the right pieces in that unruly pile is a separate skillset from actually putting the pieces together once you have them. Plenty of lawyers have great experience in both these areas, but it’s not a given, and there’s no shame in asking for outside help when you need it.

How Remote Review Services Can Help

Remote review and managed review services allow for legal teams to scale as needed in order to take on larger, review-heavy matters. Smaller teams who don’t have enough man power internally can staff up for one matter, and then scale back down afterwards.

Document review services isn’t just about when you need more reviewers, but sometimes just different reviewers. Maybe you have documents in a foreign language that no one on your staff speaks; maybe you have a matter outside your normal realm of expertise, and need reviewers with different legal specialties.

Either way, lets you take better care of your clients without having internal hires for every possible scenario that your clients might throw at you (which isn’t realistic for most law firms.)

Remote review is a great option for most law firms, but it comes with challenges of its own. Someone has to decide which reviewers are best suited for your matter. Someone has to decide how many reviewers you need to meet a deadline; those reviewers have to report to someone on a day-to-day basis, and that person needs to have an intimate understanding of the whole case, your overarching legal strategy, and whatever technology you’re using to assist human reviewers. Even after you agree on answers to all those questions, someone should be reevaluating them on a daily basis as new information comes to light. Of course, all these challenges multiply if you’re leveraging remote review for multiple cases.

So that brings up a follow-up question…. Who should be that someone?

How Managed Review Can Help

In an unmanaged remote review situation, a client is still on the hook to answer questions from reviewers as they come up; the client need to clearly communicate to reviewers what they’re looking for, and make sure there’s consistency among how these different people code documents.

Unmanaged review does cost less money, but there can also be dire consequences if this point person is already spread thin and not able to give review management enough attention. What happens if an attorney gets caught up in court and can’t answer reviewers’ questions? What if they don’t notice that more reviewers are needed until it’s too late? What if they aren’t routinely assessing progress often enough, and don’t realize a pivot in legal strategy is necessary until review is 99% done and there’s still no “smoking gun”?

This is why the biggest law firms that are dealing with complex litigation on a regular basis typically hire dedicated discovery project managers apart from their regular attorneys. They know that discovery can require near constant attention, and oftentimes it’s just not possible to give it that attention while dealing with all the other demands of being a lawyer: writing briefs, going to client meetings, court dates, etc. Such firms also know how mismanaging discovery can have dramatic impacts downstream. Therefore, investing in constant vigilance at every step of the process will pay dividends later.

Managed review means you are not only temporarily hiring reviewers, but someone to manage them. Clients get to meet with one point person, describe their legal strategy and what they’re hoping to find in review. That point person turns around and handles all the other emails and meetings with the review team. Project managers can catch issues early on and bring them to the client’s attention.

How Do I Decide Which One Is Right For Me?

There’s different reasons someone might go the managed review route over unmanaged route. One might be that they simply don’t have attorneys with that discovery project management skillset. With managed review, a firm that cannot justify hiring discovery PMs internally can still have the same level of vigilance as a firm that could.

Another reason might be that even if attorneys are perfectly capable of managing review themselves, their current caseload just doesn’t allow them to give it the attention it needs. By letting someone else answer more of the emails and sit in on more of the meetings, that attorney can focus on other things that a discovery PM couldn’t do, such as deposing witnesses or writing briefs.

Of course it’s going to depend on many factors specific to your case which can’t be addressed here, but generally the key factors that should shape your decision are:  

  1. Do you have discovery project managers internally? These could be either dedicated personnel or attorneys who have experience managing review.

  2. Do those people actually have enough room on their plate now to take on the responsibilities of managing this review?

If an unmanaged review situation is likely to result in either a) an attorney not having enough time to give all their matters the attention they deserve or b) review being managed by someone who’s never done it before and may not understand the intricacies of it, the managed review route is often best.

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