Document Reviewer Career Profile

document reviewer looking at legal documents
••• Hero Images/Getty Images

Document reviewers (also known as document review specialists) are trained legal professionals who examine documents relevant to pending litigation and regulatory investigations. Document reviewers are most often attorneys, paralegals or litigation support personnel.

On a daily basis, a document reviewer examines hundreds of documents such as memos, letters, e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, spreadsheets, and other e-documents, to determine whether the information should be turned over to an opposing party in response to a discovery request (such as an interrogatory or Request for Production).

Due to advances in technology, most documents reside in computer databases in electronic form. Therefore, document reviewers no longer manually sift through paper documents but spend most of their days in front of a computer screen. With the advent of e-discovery, electronic data is now subject to discovery, expanding the scope of the document reviewer's role.

Job Responsibilities

Traditionally, document reviewers performed a page-by-page review and analysis of the client's paper documents to determine if it should be produced to opposing parties. In this age of e-discovery, document review is usually performed by electronic means. The documents are coded and loaded into a litigation database and the dataset is culled to narrow the number of documents - which may number in the millions - down to a manageable subset of relevant documents to be reviewed.

Generally, document reviewers examine documents for the following four factors: relevance, responsiveness, privilege, and confidentiality. They may also summarize, tab, highlight, chart, and collect certain documents or information gleaned from the documents as well as create privilege and redaction logs. Learn more about the mechanics of the document review process.

Recent case law (such as Qualcomm Inc. v. Broadcom Corp., 2008 WL 66932 (S.D. Calif. Jan. 7, 2008), has placed significant potential personal liability on attorneys for failing to produce documents responsive to a discovery request. Therefore, the document reviewer's job is critical to the discovery process. Producing documents that should have been excluded from production could destroy the client's case (e.g., inadvertently producing a "smoking gun" document) or irreparably damage the client's business (e.g., inadvertently producing documents that contain trade secrets or confidential information about the client's business).

Training and Education

The training and education required to become a document reviewer varies. Attorney-reviewers possess a law degree while paralegal-reviewers and other legal professionals such as litigation support personnel may possess an associates' degree, bachelor's degree or no degree at all.

Document review is not taught in law school or legal studies programs; training occurs on the job. This training entails learning the document review software as well as understanding the specifics of the case, claim or investigation so that the reviewer can make intelligent decisions with respect to the document's potential production.

Certifications on specific software or document review platforms can enhance a document reviewer's credentials by demonstrating a certain level of competence.

Necessary Skills

Document review can be tedious and requires specialized knowledge including an understanding of the litigation process, a knowledge of the EDRM and proficiency with document review tools. The skills required may vary, depending on whether it is a first-level review, second-level review or later review. For an in-depth discussion of the skills and traits required for document review work, review these top 10 document review skills.

Average Job Salary

Document reviewer salaries typically range from $10 to $50 per hour and rates between $15 and $35 per hour are most common. Licensed attorneys who are experienced in document review generally earn rates at the higher end of this salary scale while non-degreed, entry-level reviewers earn rates at the lower end. Certain document reviewers earn six-figure salaries although it is not the norm.

Document reviewers often can earn more money through overtime hours. Wages also depend on geographic location; large cities such as New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles pay the highest rates. Projects that require specialized skills and knowledge such as foreign language fluency may pay more.

Working Conditions

Document reviewers typically sit in a windowless room or workspace in front of a computer monitor. Since many document review projects are short-term, contract and temporary work are common in this field.

Document review has been criticized as tedious, mind-numbing, sweatshop work with little chance for advancement, low prestige, a lack of steady work, stigma and a work atmosphere where breaks are limited and speed is monitored. The substance and status of document review work are changing (see job outlook below). As e-discovery transforms the industry, roles have become more hierarchal, substantive and complex. Moreover, document review jobs carry little stress, decent work-life balance and the potential of a six-figure salary.

A growing number of attorneys are opting for document review jobs as an alternative to the traditional high-stress, long-hour law firm partnership track.

Job Outlook

The document review industry is changing and jobs in this area are growing. The 2010 Socha-Gelbmann Electronic Discovery Survey reported that the e-discovery market, where document reviewers play a major role, is growing and maturing: It was a $2.8 billion market in 2009, a 10 percent rise from the previous year, and moving away from straight document review toward information management and efficiency.

In the past, document review was a low-level, tedious job relegated to fresh law grads, paralegals, and contract attorneys. However, technology has changed the substance and status of this career path.

These changes appear to be coming along with a professionalizing of the attorneys doing the review work that is left - work that is becoming more complex, interesting, flexible, stable and desirable. It is work that is rewarding in ways that might have come as a surprise not too long ago - the ABA Journal

Once seen as a dead-end job or stepping stone to permanent work, the document review world is evolving as sub-specialties and a career path within document review industry begin to emerge.