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The Human Element in eDiscovery and Document Review | raise

Finding and reviewing documents are critical steps in litigation and investigations, but lawyers and professionals often don’t pay enough attention to the human dimension of this work.

Document discovery and examination are high-stakes ventures, and both involve competing goals of quality, thoroughness, and speed. Both also require human experts who know how to deploy and use the technology or who can analyze documentary evidence. It is therefore essential to maximize the productivity of these professionals. But every human being has limits, and the intense demands of document discovery and review can — and often do — push individuals beyond their breaking point. Burnout is common.

It is understandable that decision makers in discovery and document review projects overlook the human component. The technology component of these projects looms large, and the attorneys in charge are under enormous pressure to make good choices about selecting and deploying the tools that underpin each discovery and document review project. But getting the most out of these tools requires finding, hiring, and retaining staff who are familiar with the relevant technologies and best practices, and who know how to build a team and manage it well. Staff turnover has a direct and negative impact on productivity.

In a nod to the critical role professionals play in document discovery and review, many organizations claim to provide work-life balance. But dig a little deeper, and it turns out few are giving team members the downtime they need to maintain productivity. Specialist mental exhaustion has become common and has led to widespread turnover in eDiscovery and document review. As late as March, Legaltech News reported on the problem, with Victoria Hodges authoring an article titled ‘Mental health challenges of eDiscovery are often silent but all too present‘ who noted that ‘tight deadlines, long hours, generally non-existent welfare opportunities and understaffing make eDiscovery particularly stressful’.

There is a better way. In my role leading Elevate’s project managers, analysts, and eDiscovery specialists, I know first-hand what practices make a positive difference. Components of our approach to work-life balance include:

  • No “working vacation”: I ask each team member going on vacation to turn off all email and Teams notifications. If we need to contact them, I will be the only one to contact them and I will do it by phone.
  • Recognition of the realities of parenthood and life: we provide allowances to allow team members to take their children, themselves or family members to school or to the doctor without worrying about the time spent away from work.
  • Foster teamwork: We hold weekly 1:1 meetings to clarify and adjust work schedules and workloads. We run daily team check-ins so that everyone stays on top of priorities and is aware of any items that may need further assistance. We also meet weekly via “water coolers”. Water fountains are like fight club: the only rule is that we don’t talk about work! These practices do more than help us function as an effective team: they also foster a culture of collaboration and genuine caring.

These and other measures go a long way to reducing stress for team members and helping them to be healthier and happier. Protecting vacations from work-related intrusions means people can use their free time to decompress and recharge. Flexibility in parenting/personal tasks relieves colleagues of the excruciating dilemma of choosing between family or work. They know their teammates will support them when challenges arise. Everyone understands that no matter what, our performance won’t suffer and together we’ll get the job done and do the right thing for our customers.

Stress is inherent in eDiscovery and document review. And the events and uncertainties of the past two years have generated unprecedented levels of psychological pressure on almost everyone. For legal organizations with discovery and examination projects, addressing the human dimension is now more critical than ever.

A few basic steps can help maximize productivity in eDiscovery and document review by reducing team member stress and improving their mindset.


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