Photo by W2 Beard & Shorty (Flickr/Creative Commons)
Photo by W2 Beard & Shorty (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Perspective: The Evolution of Managed Document Review

  • Leapfrogging Technology and the Slow Acceptance of Predictive Coding
  • Editor’s Note: The author of this post works at a legal process outsourcing company.

    By Caragh McGovern Landry, Global Head of Onshore Managed Review, Integreon

    The Manage Document Review Project Manager (MDR PM) profession came into existence about 10 or 11 years ago with the advent of Managed Document Review (MDR) outsourcing companies. It is still a somewhat new role and increasingly the skills for this role are changing and growing. At LegalTech 2016 I spent time with several in-house and law firm attorneys explaining the difference between MDR and Staffing.

    Staffing for document review entails a firm or Counsel needing scalability on a project or task for a specific time. Attorneys or paralegals are needed because resources are thin and deadlines are tight. Staffing supplies these needed additional staff members for the required amount of time with the requisite skills appropriate for the project.

    MDR isn’t just Staffing plus, it’s an entirely different offering. In an MDR engagement, not only do you get resources for the project, but you also get expertise in workflow design and implementation, timeline and budget ownership, quality control management and best practices execution of the review itself. And how do you get all of this? Through the expert guidance and oversight of a Managed Document Review Project Manager.

    Eleven years ago, when we (MDR folks) decided that we could deliver document review more efficiently and for lower costs than most options in the market back then, there was no such thing as a Review Project Manager. On the one side, there were the EDD people who had collected, processed and loaded data into review platforms and then on the other side there were lawyers, at firms or in corporations, performing the review. The EDD team had a PM that would work with the end client to provide platform training and own the design and setup of the review database itself, but the ins and outs of running a document review were in the hands of the end user, often a 1st or 2nd year attorney or an overworked partner with better things to do with their time.

    Over the last 11 years, as the MDR market has grown, this new role has been more fully fleshing itself out. Initially we (again, the MDR folk) just hired the 1st or 2nd years who had struggled through a few document review projects. They understood the various phases of review — review, QC, privilege, production — and had a fairly good grasp on what went wrong on their projects and what could be improved. Together with their EDD PM, they could help their clients navigate the unsophisticated (in 2005) process of a document review. We basically took linear paper review and moved it into online databases and replicated the process, in a documented fashion, and the efficiencies we could add were in better staffing, constant oversight and some guidance on what step in the process came next.

    Before 2010, we also saw the dawn of Analytics with companies like Syngence, Attenex and Stratify, companies which pushed efficiency in the technology they brought to the market. All three companies (only Syngence still survives) were game changers in the document review process. Clustering looked at the text of documents and grouped together documents with similar text in similar formation, ostensibly similar documents like contract revisions and various iterations of emails. Boom! All of a sudden we had EDD PMs talking to their clients about better presenting documents to reviewers so they could move through documents quicker and with higher decision consistency. The Document Review Managers, who initially were lawyers with not a lot of tech savvy but had a fair understanding of the document review stages, had to evolve to not only understand, but also explain, clustering in a review context and build workflow to incorporate it at the right times.

    Then Find Similar/More Like This, Near Duplicate Identification, and Email Threading came to town and again, Review Managers had to scramble to gain working knowledge of how these new tools could be incorporated into the process to add efficiency, improve quality and gain consistency. As soon as new products hit the market, Review Managers were looked to as experts in not only review process, but also in the technology that could be integrated into the workflow.

    And more recently, Categorization, Prioritized Review and Predictive Coding have joined the party and again, Review Managers have had a steep learning curve catching up to technology as it impacts document review.

    Adding to this technology and process consulting and design, Review PMs in an outsourcing model, are also expected to set and keep to a timeline and budget, manage teams of (often) contract staff, ensure quality across team coding decisions, and act as the main point of contract for the end client providing transparency and progress updates through meetings, logs and robust reporting on a daily basis. Whew! How do these people do it?

    I have found two things to be true. One — there aren’t too many people able to handle all that EDD and MDR entail. They are a rare breed. Common qualities they possess are a desire to learn new things, a strong drive to self-improve through independent study, an interest in doing things better/smarter/faster and insane multi-tasking capabilities. Two — clients (the end user) have no idea about the complexity and importance of this role and often under-value the need for an MDR Project Manager. Out of all the costs associated with EDD and MDR, I most often see the Project Manager cost contested and it is always fundamentally questions on the basis of whether the role is essential or not.

    I can promise you, it is essential. In an MDR engagement, without an MDR PM, you will struggle and likely fail by exceeding costs, missing timelines, inadvertently producing documents and skipping important steps in the overall process. Document Review today is a complex workflow that needs to be navigated by a knowledgeable practitioner, not just of the subject matter at hand, but of the ever-changing world of process improvement, technology and good old-fashioned project management best practices.

    Oh, and they need a J.D. and to be barred in good standing. But those are the easy things.

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