Over the past year I’ve lived in the world of “doc review” or document review in Washington, D.C. With this post I begin an exploration of the life narratives I’ve discovered thus far in this world, of stories in this “community” of human beings.
Picture this: A windowless room packed with lawyers. (I could make a joke of this but I won’t.) They sit erectly or in various degrees of “slump” only two feet from each other staring at computer screens plopped on long folding tables, their hands draped over a mouse, their index fingers clicking away for eight or more hours a day, sometimes seven days a week.
Each lawyer’s station has any number and assortment of personal belongings, ranging from their smartphones—if they’re permitted to have them out—to hand cream and pain relief pills, to cups of coffee or tea, to a can of, say, smoked almonds. For lunch and/or dinner they eat at their stations, some of the food prepared at home, but much of it bought from food trucks parked outside the building.
A good number of them have earbuds plugged in and listen to music or podcasts. And lots of them leave the buds in even when walking around the floor, say to the kitchen or bathroom. The dress code is business casual with a range of adherence to the code, from crisp tops and bottoms to what appear to be yesterday’s pajamas. About half of the reviewers are women, and the group is pretty racially diverse. Maybe a quarter of them are African, many of them Nigerian. They range in age from their mid-twenties to a smattering of sixty- and seventy-year olds.
What documents are they reviewing? In big corporate mergers or litigation, thousands upon thousands of documents, many of them emails, have to be produced to the government, say, the Department of Justice and/or the Federal Trade Commission, or in litigation to the opposing party. The reviewers are using coding software to register whether, among other things, the document is responsive to the matter, and, if so, whether attorney-client privilege applies, in which case the document may not have to be produced. When the reviewers click on the mouse, they’re putting checks into tiny radio buttons with a bunch of coding options. In virtually all projects, the reviewers are expected to go through a certain number of documents per hour, perhaps seventy or more.
That’s what we see on the surface.
But what’s the subtext?
What lies beneath?