Although the term “managed document review” is commonly understood to those who frequently deal with e-discovery, the term may be less familiar to others. In short, managed document review (sometimes called managed review) occurs when an outside firm or vendor manages a document review project on behalf of a party engaged in litigation or subject to a subpoena.
An important part of the discovery process in litigation is the parties’ exchange of documents relevant to the case. Historically, attorneys were responsible for reviewing and producing documents on behalf of their clients. Typically, upon receipt of a request for documents from an opponent in litigation, attorneys would work with their clients to collect documents in their clients’ possession that were relevant to the legal matter. After collection, the attorney (or most likely the attorney’s associates) would review the collected documents and determine which were truly relevant to the litigation, responsive to the document requests and would be turned over to the opposing party. Those documents that were not relevant or those that were privileged (for instance attorney – client communications) were removed from the collection and not produced to the opponent.
However, in the late 1990s and early 2000s when e-mail became a prevalent method of communication and nearly every industry digitized and computerized workflows, the volume of documents and information subject to review and production in lawsuit exploded. This explosion of “electronically stored information,” or ESI for short, begat the age of electronic discovery– “e-discovery.” Litigants could no longer collect a few boxes of hard copy documents and turn them over to attorneys for review and production. In the e-discovery era, clients collecting documents for litigation must also involve the IT department and computer systems personnel or hire an outside vendor to handle the collection. Once the ESI is collected, it is still often turned over to attorneys to review, but attorneys now use software to review the documents rather than shuffling through hard copies. Because of the volume of information that now must be reviewed in litigation is so large, legal fees and costs relating to the collection and review of documents have skyrocketed, and by some accounts, comprises nearly 70% of fees and costs in major litigation.
Not only has litigation document review become expensive, it has become quite complex and involves so much data that many law firms host the data on servers maintained by third party e-discovery vendors. Law firms often also look outside the firm to secure enough personnel to review the electronic documents in a timely fashion. For large document review projects, law firms often hire temporary or “contract” attorneys to serve as document reviewers. The contract attorneys are independent contractors often supplied by staffing firms, but often the attorneys handling the case remain responsible for managing the document review team.
Another consequence of the explosion of ESI and costs associated with it is that document review work in larger cases is sometimes handled in house by the client or moved offshore and conducted by contract attorneys in other countries such as India. Keeping the review in house or offshoring it helps lower costs (i.e. lower hourly rates). As a result, law firms and companies involved in litigation often engage e-discovery companies to manage the document review process and oversee the attorney review teams. This is known as “managed document review” which is part of a larger trend of legal process outsourcing or, LPO. Managed review companies locate the document reviewers, often provide a space to conduct the review, and manages the review efforts in conjunction with the attorneys or clients.
The benefit of using companies offering document review services is that they often offer expertise and resources that a law firm might not otherwise have, especially smaller to mid-size law firms. Specifically, managed document review companies are well-versed in document review workflows and technology and can maximize the productivity and efficiency of the document review process. Although law firms have access to document review software, and most use it, e-discovery companies gain an understanding of the software that may not be otherwise learned absent continuous and frequent use. This is particularly important in cases involving large amounts of data because a strong knowledge of how to leverage document review software greatly increases efficiency and speed in the review process. In fact, some companies own their own proprietary document review software. Moreover, managed review companies also allow law firms to and clients to conserve resources by outsourcing document review tasks that would otherwise be handled by law firm associates or employees of the client freeing up their time to work on other projects for the law firm or client (often at a higher rate of return). Finally, managed document review firms often also handle the administrative and supervisory aspects of the document review by securing the contract attorney reviewers and supervising their work. This also frees up time for the lawyers and the client.