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5 myths affecting document review outsourcing decisions

Is it time to unburden your staff from handling document review?

By: John Thacher 


5 document review outsourcing myths and how to limit their impact on your business.

Read time: 4 minutes

Even with advances in technology, document review can still represent significant cost (read time, resources, and budget): particularly in large-scale litigations and investigations. For some time now, both budgetary constraints and lack of available resources have led corporate legal departments and law firms to look for outside alternatives.

Despite the now substantial history and success of legal services outsourcing, some skepticism remains about document review outsourcing and why it's best to keep document review in-house or with external counsel.

Healthy skepticism is not an unwarranted position. And there were indeed operational, management, and quality challenges when outsourcing legal services was nascent. It is also true that there exists a broad range of competency among providers (choosing wisely matters). But plenty has changed and it is past time to address the myths the persist concerning document review outsourcing.

Myth #1: “It's not conducted by experienced lawyers.”

When you choose a vendor wisely, your review services will be conducted by attorneys with extensive legal practice and document review experience. Simply vet your vendor prospects to ensure every review team member (reviewers and review managers) are licensed attorneys admitted to the bar and in good standing. Vendors should have highly experienced document reviewers with expertise in document review technology, processes, and protocols.

Myth #2: “In-house or external counsel are best suited for review.”

This may very well be true. However, the impetus for outsourcing is not the lack of legal expertise; rather, it is the lack of resources. Few, if any law firms and corporate legal departments have the resources needed to conduct a review in a timely manner: this would entail having significant levels of resource availability – and maintaining it – through the peaks and valleys of demand.

For the vast majority, counsel is already stretched thin with their daily work. And not unimportantly, the thoughtful integration of outsourced review allows counsel to focus on the high-value work they need (and want) to do: case assessment and strategy, substantive issues, merits, amount at controversy, and so on. It's a win-win.

Myth #3: “I won’t have control.”

It's always your review. With the right vendor, you are always in control. A vendor is structured and should function as an extension of the legal team (inside or outside counsel) that is responsible for the review. And outsourced review protocols include active client engagement in the development of the review instructions, training of the review team, the iterative Q&A during setup and execution of the review, and other necessary knowledge transfer regimens.

Myth #4: “It’s expensive.”

Firstly, this begs the question: "Compared to what?" Outsourced review rates are competitive and often a fraction of a law firm's (first year) associate hourly rate. The same is true of the in-house counsel effective billing rate when expressed as an hourly equivalent.

Secondly, it is not only the hourly billable rate (the per unit cost) that is less. It is also the resource allocation and time to complete review (the total cost of service) that will prove to be much lower. The efficiencies gained through Ricoh's deft and award-winning use of technology, proven process effectiveness, and world-leading infrastructure supporting the review provides benefits that lessen the total cost of review while providing higher quality.

In short: you're likely to see a lower total cost and improved results in terms of budget, quality, risk mitigation, cycle time, and other critical performance measures.

Myth #5: “Human review is more accurate than technology-based review.”

While there is continued and increasing adoption of technology-assisted review (TAR) and active learning (AL) integrations, the "eyes-on-paper" is better" argument continues to haunt my conversations. This myth persists despite numerous studies by scientists over decades who specialize in search, studies within the legal community, and recognition of the validity – even demands for its use – by the courts.

When vetting a potential vendor, another area to ask about is quality control and their use of widely accepted validation methods. The accuracy of such reviews following scientifically valid statistical sampling regimens is eminently defensible.

It should be remembered that technology-based review does not have to be better than "human review" (the traditional linear "eyes on paper" review); it only has to be as good in terms of accuracy to provide exceptional benefits. Namely, significantly reduced time and cost to affect the review. Another point to consider:

Attorneys rightfully want to focus on merits and the issues that help prove (or disprove) their arguments, not relevance and non-relevance to simply meet production requirements. Review technologies help achieve this focus quickly, accurately, defensibly, and cost-effectively.

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Interested in finding out what document review outsourcing would look like for your organization?

John Thatcher has over 20-years experience in a variety of settings, serving some of the most innovative firms and vendors in the industry. He has managed more than 250 Review Projects with 6,500 employees. John is an expert in the streamlining of Managed Review Center solutions for corporations, law firms, and vendors. John’s commitment to competence-based Managed Review systems repeatedly produces high performance teams leading directly to rapid organizational growth and improved client retention.

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