5 Ways to Survive Document Review (Without Killing Yourself)

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on January 10, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If you thought working in the litigation department of BigLaw meant that you would be litigating cases, or even see a courtroom, you are just too cute. Your innocence astonishes -- I should know, I was one of those people with dreams of litigating cases in S.D.N.Y. for big corporate clients. Instead, I spent much of my time at BigLaw in an office full of boxes -- doing a document review.

Oh, doc review -- an integral part of litigation discovery -- and a lot of what you'll be doing at BigLaw where most cases settle. So as you embark on the inevitable task of reviewing thousands of pages of text, here are five tips to get you through it.

And we promise, you'll come out of it at the end without having stuck a pencil in your eye.

1. Know What You're Looking For

The most important aspect of document review is well, review. So, in order to be effective you need to know exactly what you are looking for. Depending on the issues in the case, there will be key words that you will need to look out for. But, don't just look out for key words. Read things carefully enough so you can pick up on issues that are being addressed -- even when particular key words are not used. That said, if you can tell from the get-go that a document is irrelevant don't read the whole thing word-for-word. Skimming and speed reading are your friends.

2. Ask Questions

If you see something referenced in a document and you are unsure whether it is relevant, before tossing it aside and ignoring it -- ask someone. Visit a more senior attorney on the case (not necessarily the partner -- could be a few years your senior) and ask them if you need to dig deeper, or not. No stupid questions here -- you don't want to be the associate that overlooked a key document in the case.

3. Create Piles

I know, with all the piles and boxes of paper around you, I'm actually suggesting that you make more piles (and of course this only works with hard copy docs, not e-docs). Sounds crazy, but there's a method to my madness. You should create piles based on degree of importance, type of document, or by issue. The method you choose will depend on the type of case you're dealing with -- make piles that best suit you -- but just make them.

4. Create Goals

When you're staring at an office full of boxes it's very easy to get overwhelmed. On top of that, doc review always, always needs to be performed in a relatively short period of time, so you need to stay on top of things. The best thing is to create little goals or deadlines for yourself. For example, if you have five days to complete twenty boxes of document review, then maybe you want to shoot for getting through four boxes a day.

5. Stay Organized

Staying organized is key to a successful document review project (n.b. paragraph 3, above). Keep track of which boxes you were assigned, keep track of which boxes have been reviewed, and keep track of what documents are relevant and need further analysis. Labels, highlighters, excel spread sheets all come in handy for staying organized and we all have our preferences -- find yours and use it.

If you are in BigLaw you will definitely at some point have to do a document review -- whether its part of discovery (for the litigators) or due diligence (for the transactional folks). It's a tedious job, but someone -- you -- has to do it. If you follow these five tips for getting though document review, you'll definitely come out a survivor.

What are your tips for surviving document review? Let us know on Facebook at FindLaw for Legal Professionals.

Editor's Note, January 3, 2017: This post was first published in January 2014. It has since been updated.

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