Six Questions to Ask Before Performing Document Review

Document Review is getting a bad rap these days – examining thousands of pages of documents is an overwhelming task for any paralegal! Accidentally producing a “smoking gun” could be detrimental for your client, while failing to produce a document which the other side is entitled to could bring serious consequences. Combine that with the frequently used terms like “soul crushing” and “mindless” and it’s no wonder document review has become such a dreaded assignment.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Answer these questions before you start, and work through the file slowly and methodically. You’ll be efficient and accurate – and finished before you know it!

What Are The Case Issues?

Begin by reviewing the file, particularly important pleadings that have been filed, witness statements and case summaries. Nothing to go off of yet? Make a chronological list of the facts and issues as you review the documents for easy reference.

Once you have an overview of the case you will be able to make intelligent decisions regarding relevance as you review the documents.

What Is The Goal?

Are you examining the documents for privilege/creating a privilege log? Is your intent to redact confidential information? You will be able to skim quickly past the documents that are obviously not privileged.

Quick Tip - when redacting electronically (using the highlighter tool in your PDF software set to black), make sure you save the document as a “protected” document before emailing it to the other side so they can’t delete your redactions!

Perhaps you need to respond to a specific interrogatory or request for production. Again, you will be able to quickly skim past any documents that have nothing to do with that particular request.

Other goals might include determining relevance or gathering specific information (perhaps you are looking for names of witnesses or pulling out only the medical records).

Where Are You In The Discovery Process?

If the file is in litigation and the case has just begun, certain information may not be discoverable at this point – you don’t want to show your hand too early! For instance, in insurance defense, certain evidence such as surveillance information may not be discoverable until the plaintiff’s deposition has been taken.

On the other hand, if the case is very close to trial, you may have to produce certain documents that you previously withheld if you intend on introducing them into evidence. Know the rules and be aware of your timeline.

Can You Perform The Review Electronically?

It’s much faster to scroll through pages of a PDF than to sort through physical pages (not to mention the paper cuts!). If the documents are in hard copy format, consider scanning them to a searchable PDF (or having a document scanning vendor do it for you). Then you will be able to search for keywords relevant to your goal (however, don’t rely completely on the search function as it does not always find all of the text).

As you scroll, you can extract particular pages from the file, bookmark and/or make comments in the PDF.

Quick Tip – ask for documents in an electronic format at the outset. This may involve re-wording your medical records requests or changing the language of your Requests for Production of Documents. Or simply asking your client to provide you with a PDF instead of a hard copy.

Do You Need To Outsource?

Are you on a time crunch? Outsource all or part of the project to a document review vendor. Choose a reputable vendor with significant experience and a pool of high quality reviewers. They’ll also need to be familiar with the subject matter and the legal field in general. You’ll need someone who can easily perform the task on a short deadline.

Make sure to provide your vendor with a clear deadline and timeline, a clear goal, whether a privilege log needs to be created and any other pertinent information to the case. A written checklist will clear up any communication errors.

Who Can Provide a Second Level Review?

The answer to this question should be the attorney on the case. He or she is legally responsible for the work product and should take a cursory look at your final result before you produce any documents to the opposing attorney or send information to your client, an expert, or the court. And a second pair of eyes could mean the difference between winning and losing the case!

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