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blog_contract-reviewerThe role of the contract reviewer has long been critical to e-discovery, and as a former reviewer myself, I am particularly interested in the evolution of the contract attorney—past, present, and future.

As the founder of Review Less, a staffing boutique focused on providing top-notch review talent, Karl Schieneman is no stranger to new review technologies or traditional contract review. He’s also a certified Special Master in the Western District of Pennsylvania’s Special Master Pilot Program for Electronic Discovery, and served as a predictive coding expert for the defense in Global Aerospace v. Landow Aviation.

I recently sat down with Karl to hear his observations about contract review, legal technology, and everything in between.

Constantine: How has your team evolved with e-discovery advances in the last few years?

Karl: Review Less started as a predictive coding consulting business, so we’ve been focused on that aspect of e-discovery technology from the start. Our original vision was to build all-star teams for technology-assisted review projects by finding the best review attorneys in the country. Today we recognize review is a skill by itself, and there are lots of ways to improve review beyond more advanced workflows such as predictive coding. So I think one major change is simply the number of options case teams have to solve the high costs and consistency challenges involved in document review.

How can contract attorneys give themselves a leg up on the competition and advance their careers to the next level?

Here are my top five tips:

  1. Take every project seriously.
  2. Communicate early and often with your teammates—and the client you’re reviewing for—on what you’re seeing in the data and any questions you have.
  3. Remember that team players tend to shine in these projects.
  4. When you finish a project, ask for feedback. Letting people know you want to improve is a seldom used but very effective way to earn positive attention.
  5. Learn the industry technologies, stay on top of the newer features, and validate your knowledge.

That last one is especially important, and sometimes undervalued. Most lawyers are more interested in legal strategy than legal technology. However, it’s critical to remember that fact development today, by its nature, requires finding the right data quickly—and we do that in e-discovery software.

If you learn the tools deeply enough to suggest new or more efficient ways to work with them to your clients, you can quickly become invaluable. Learn how these tools can quickly organize data into the pieces of the puzzle that is your case. Then, leverage your legal expertise to help your team drill into what matters. If you develop your skills in that direction, you’ll be in a good position to move up.

What is the one thing you'd change about the contract attorney market if you could?

The stigma associated with it. If you ask me, the best reviewers are contract attorneys—but, unfortunately, so are some of the worst reviewers. We work to find the best ones on largely first-pass reviews so they can accomplish most of the tasks required by our clients. In our view, review attorneys are like high-end consultants with specialized skills. They can help kick off a case and get review moving efficiently from the start.

There are definitely horror stories about ineffective contract reviewers, and many of them are true. That is scary to me and to case teams—and it’s just as scary to the reviewers who want to do a great job.

Great attorneys in this field often feel the undeserved consequences of their peers’ ineffectiveness. By focusing on quality instead of just finding 20 people to fill an order, it is possible to do a great first-pass review and achieve professional, reliable results.

Do you have any advice for contract attorneys concerned about being stigmatized for review work?

It all depends what your career goals are. There is nothing stopping a contract attorney from starting a law practice and doing review work when they have time. Personally, I think review attorneys who do some practice and some review offer more well-rounded legal skills than brand-new lawyers or those who focus on one or the other.

When it comes down to it, if you work hard, you should never be stigmatized for your efforts. People who work hard and communicate with their clients tend to have opportunities presented to them regardless of circumstance. It can take time, but your odds are improved greatly if you approach all your legal jobs with the same level of commitment—and if you focus on developing your skills and relationships as you go.

What is the current state of review?

I think case teams are getting smarter about what they expect from review. It’s not just an assembly line of reviewers at an hourly rate—it’s about getting better results from reviewers and defending the quality of the review to certify its completeness.

The solutions that make for better review will always be driven by improvements in technology, but the people involved will matter, too. Though the industry is heavily focused on exploring those technologies right now, I think we’ll continue to value knowledgeable professionals in this field. Putting equal focus on the people and technology involved will mean more effective reviews, and I hope to that see as the norm in review very soon.

karl-schieneman-125x125Karl Schieneman is president and owner of Review Less, a legal services staffing firm. He has more than 20 years of legal and e-discovery experience, as well as an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University and a J.D. from the University of Pittsburgh.

Constantine Pappas is a licensed attorney with more than 15 years of legal experience. He has served as in-house counsel and managed both paper and electronic discovery for large-scale lawsuits and government investigations. As a member of Relativity’s customer success team, Constantine helps Relativity users with workflows for text analytics and computer-assisted review.