Remember when Gregor, in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, is inexplicably transformed into a cockroach? Remember how absurd it was? Here was this mild-mannered traveling salesman who, even though middle-aged, still lives with his parents. One day he’s just an average dude eeking out his living and paying off his father’s debts. The next morning – bam – he’s crawling up walls, antenna wiggling, hairy legs and all that. Or so it seems. I like to think that Gregor was really turned into a cockaroach. It is much more satisfying.Anyhow, my point is that, the whole thing was absurd. You know what else is patently absurd? Legal document review projects. I’m not going to describe how utterly demoralizing the work is. That’s a complaint for another day. I’m just going to describe how absurd it is.
First, if you don’t know what document review is, I wish I was you. But generally, during litigation, there is a phase called discovery. As the name implies, discovery is when parties to a lawsuit gather evidence from each other to prove or disprove their case. For example, the plaintiffs will send the defendants a whole slew of requests for production of evidence. Since we are in the future, but not quite entirely so because we are talking about lawyers here, the defendants will respond to the requests by dumping a hard drive full of emails and other documents on the plaintiffs. But wait, the defendants, if they aren’t stupid, will have already gone through those documents and taken out the stuff they don’t want the other side to see.
Okay so who gets the lucky task of shifting through a terabyte of garbage? Well first, probably a computer application. That will eliminate some of the bullshit. What’s left over will be deposited into another program called a review platform. Then about a billion crappy, low caste, attorneys like me will get to shift through the dregs. We’re tasked with “analyzing,” realistically quickly eyeballing for specific words, topics, or email addresses, and sorting the documents into categories. Is something relevant? It goes into this pile. Did an attorney write that email? It goes into that pile. Anyhow, it’s generally crap work.
But you know what? It’s work. It’s basic. It’s useful at the end of the day. So, it wouldn’t be too bad where it not for the absurd legal hierarchy that surrounds it.
Somewhere along the way, some big shot fucker decided, as they usually do, that he wanted a legal fiefdom. Legal fiefdoms are like the main business structure of law. You get a partner – the landowner – who brings in the cases; the associate – the tenant farmer – who works the cases; and the paralegal – the mule – who really does all the work.
But what happens when the big shot can’t build his fiefdom in a law firm? Well he builds it elsewhere. Like at a document review center. There he can lord his magnificence around, while still paying homage to the real attorneys who deem to give him work.
Anyhow, it’s an infuriatingly stupid system that is never going to change. Today was a prime example of how absurd this shit is. So last week, I got a recruitment email for a one week gig. I can do one week without gauging my eyes out, so I agreed to join the project.
So I get to the review center and I’m ushered into a moderately sized room. I really don’t have the mind for guessing at dimensions, which is why I’m a crap lawyer, so you’re going to have to trust me when I say moderately sized. Use your imagination.
The room is arranged in an open office, bench style setup. So it’s already cheap real estate trick hell. There are six tables and 10 people to a table, five on one side and five on the other. Computer displays are set up at each workstation, but really lawyers are crammed in together like sardines. I take my seat. I’m not the largest person in the world, but every time someone walks behind me, they hit my chair. There’s not much room to maneuver.
For the first hour and a half, we read the materials given to us by the big muckity muck attorneys who are paying our shekels. We are told that the biggest king – the partner – will make an appearance and he may even be nice to us. Dare to dream.
It happens, the big partner type attorney shows up and starts to train us. The case is stupid. The partner thinks the case is stupid. It is a stupid case. The partner tells us that he just doesn’t care about the documents. Nevertheless, the fucking gunner ducks, or something, of the place – in a document review context we are lower than paralegals, we are itinerant workers, going from plot of land to plot of land as the harvest requires – so I guess ducks isn’t right. Anyhow, there are some real bootlickers in there and they keep peppering the partner with questions about the review – what if we see a document like this? What if there is a key document that will blow up the entire case?
Damnit fuckers, the partner just said that he didn’t care about the documents. He just explained the posture of the case, where we are in discovery, what he’s trying to do in producing this garbage. Why are you still acting like these questions are super important?
Fine, so after like three hours of that, I figure we are ready to start. But no. The documents aren’t loaded. So someone smartly asks how many documents there are. Crickets. No one knows. The review manager doesn’t know. The partner doesn’t know. Luckily, the partner assures us that they delivered a big hard drive to the review center the week before.
What the fuck does that mean? A big hard drive? You get that they don’t just cram a bunch of paper in there and weigh it? You get that data comes in bits and bytes and megabytes and terabytes and that a “big hard drive” means nothing. I have a tiny solid state drive that can hold a gig of data. You have no clue. You all just hired sixty suckers to possibly only go through five documents. How’s that even…what is that?
Oh, but we are assured that they may expand the group to eighty reviewers. Why? You don’t even know how many documents we are supposed to look at. Moreover, you just told us that your fancy ass computers are going to cull down the documents to the most likely to be relevant. Why am I fucking here?
I hate document review.