A matter for review

Document review in anticipation of litigation can be an extremely expensive proposition. All documents involved, in some cases numbering in the thousands or even millions, have to be reviewed, usually by a lawyer or a paralegal.

A widely publicized securities case involving DaimlerChrysler AG demonstrates how a few missing documents can hold up proceedings. Some handwritten notes taken by the company’s CFO during meetings related to the underlying transactions under litigation failed to show up in sets of documents produced for the parties’ counsels.

The trial was halted, and a special hearing was held to determine whether the documents were intentionally withheld. The court concluded that the most likely cause of the discrepancy was simply an error in copying the documents.

Document review, often done by associates in law firms, is not the most direct route to recognition for a young lawyer, so the job often drops to secondary importance when more interesting or lucrative works turns up. Even so, hourly rates for associates or junior associates can be high.

One way to pare the costs in some cases, says John McIlvaine, a patent attorney with The Webb Law Firm, is to allow opposing attorneys to review the documents themselves and decide which ones they want to prepare their case.

Karl Schieneman, president of Legal Network Ltd., a business that provides contract legal talent for law firms and businesses, says using temporary help can keep the costs down and produce a better result for the client.

“A way to make the spending more reasonable is to try to push the cost down with contract attorneys and paralegals,” says Schieneman.

Schieneman maintains that contract workers — generally available at rates considerably lower than those commanded by firm attorneys and paralegals, and focused on a single project — won’t be drawn away to handle other tasks.

The savings, Schieneman claims, can be 50 percent to 80 percent, depending on a law firm’s hourly rates. And lowering the hourly cost can allow resources to be dedicated to doing a more thorough review of the documents.

Says Schieneman: “Once you’ve knocked the cost down that way, you can do more digging.”