One of the most gratifying things I’ve heard repeatedly throughout my career in eDiscovery has been “I love working with you, you treat us like real people.”
The nature of eDiscovery, particularly in the frontlines of document review, is that the vast majority of the people work through hundreds of thousands of documents on a regular basis. It’s one of those so-called “thankless” jobs and we cut our teeth as attorneys hired on short term contracts.
As a contract attorney in eDiscovery we move freely between various agencies. Contract Attorneys can, and do, choose what employers they want to prioritize working for, and with whom they choose not to work. I’ve worked with MANY contract attorneys and there are a number of service providers that get a bad reputation. It would be unprofessional to name names but as a former contract attorney myself with many of the leading vendors, I can attest to at least some of the contract Attorneys criticism.
Why Does This Matter?
When one project for an eDiscovery vendor ends, there is no guarantee that the next team will be staffed by the same persons.
This is important to understand, because the quality of personnel on the eDiscovery team an agency can assemble matters. It matters because teams work cohesively and there is a certain institutional memory that carries from one matter to the next.
An eDiscovery reviewer’s job is not simply to read through a given number of documents to meet a court requirement for discovery. It is important not to lose sight of the fact, these are the attorneys that litigators are relying upon to collect and sort evidence for potential use in trial—the very building blocks of legal argument.
The nature of contract attorney teams is that many of the reviewers themselves come and go. There are some core members that stay on, sometimes for many years. But overall, the environment is very fluid. The high rate of turnover is the reality in which one must manage quality and work ethic. On the vendor side (I use the word agency or service provider or vendor interchangeably), it is paramount that given this dynamic that workplace dignity and respect makes a big difference. Yes, contractors come and go. Sometimes there are some “bad apples” out there but overall, the people I’ve worked with are ethical, intelligent, and devoted to their craft as document review attorneys. And when they are treated poorly, this impacts morale and has a cascading impact on the overall team’s work output and quality.
An unfortunate trend in our industry has been to largely regard eDiscovery review attorneys as replaceable and interchangeable.
Simply put, it takes a certain kind of person to be able to focus for 8 hours or more at a time, reading through hundreds of electronic documents every day, and applying an extensive set of instructions repeatedly. They must have an attention to detail, be self-motivated, maintain excellent memory and an ability to quickly understand basic legal concepts in which they have no prior experience.
Moreover, despite the best efforts of the Project Managers’ quality control systems, it is extremely difficult to be flawless in ensuring important documents missed by the review team are caught in Quality Control.
In an industry where reviewers are often searching for as few as 30-40 documents which can serve as strong evidence at trial among hundreds of thousands of documents or more, the first and best protection against the risk of a missed opportunity in eDiscovery is the accumulation of a high-quality team of reviewers. It is the proverbial “people” portion of the “people, process & technology” trio.
Honesty and Integrity
However, the realities of the eDiscovery business are that most agencies struggle to distinguish themselves by offering greater benefits or pay to attract a high quality team of reviewers. There is a remarkable degree of uniformity in the compensation offered. There is research that also indicates that money is often not the driving factor for employee’s motivation and productivity.
National Business Research Institute, Harvard Business Review and others have pointed out that numerous studies indicate that money is a poor predictor of motivation, and other factors like approachable management, adequate resources to do their job, and a communicative management style were listed as more significant factors.
How then can a vendor attract the best possible team of personnel?
Building a relationship of trust and integrity is a major part of that effort. That’s a good start.
A policy of consistent honesty, integrity and transparency with eDiscovery employees builds a relationship of trust. Many eDiscovery workers at CJK have worked with us for years, and our best reviewers return to us over and over, prioritizing their relationship with our group.
There is always a concern with short term contract workers that some employees may leave at inopportune times. Life happens and we get it but many times during a review project, a member of the client-assigned review team may suddenly drop out. This fear is particularly acute when an end date has been determined internally for a project—a temptation exists to keep the employees in the dark as much as possible, to always tell them that the project will be continuing indefinitely.
At CJK we have found that employees appreciate honesty and transparency in these matters. As a result, reviewers gain some semblance of predictability and regular work assignments when available. Loyalty and consistency with some of the highest skilled reviewers in the United States is truly underappreciated in our industry, particularly as it relates to quality output. While there is great importance in accumulating a quality roster of document reviewers in both Asia and the US, the benefits to a strong relationship with eDiscovery contract employees goes well beyond simply personnel.
Happy Workers = Better Productivity and Accuracy
Studies have shown what many good managers understand instinctively: That happy employees are more productive. For example, an Oxford University study published in Oct. 2019 from Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Dr. Celement Bellet into productivity in a telecom center indicated that workers who are happy in the workplace are about 19% more productive.
Workers were asked to rate their happiness on a weekly basis for a 6-month period during working hours using a simple survey. Then the workers data on attendance, productivity data, scheduled hours and breaks, and the company’s internal administrative data was used to assess productivity.
The researchers’ concluded that happy workers do not work more hours than their unhappy counterparts, but they have increased productivity in the hours that they work.
In an industry like eDiscovery where clients are charged as a billable hour, personal motivation in efficiently and accurately executing oftentimes repetitive tasks, higher focus and quality of work derived from a happy workforce is particularly important.
Treating employees isn’t just the right thing to do in the moral sense—it’s also just good business. In the context of document review, this is critical. The law firm’s client and the integrity of their trade secrets could be at risk. Contract attorneys are often reading some of the most sensitive electronic files during the course of eDiscovery. Let’s make sure reviewers are treated with dignity.