What Does a Document Reviewer Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
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.
Document Reviewer Duties & 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. Other duties include the following:
- Examine documents for the following four factors: relevance, responsiveness, privilege, and confidentiality
- Summarize, tab, highlight, chart, and collect certain documents or information gleaned from the documents as
- Create privilege and redaction logs
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).
Document Reviewer Salary
Document reviewer salaries cover a range , and 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.
A document reviewer salary varies based on their level of experience, geographical location, and other factors. Document reviewers often can earn more money through overtime hours. Wages in different geographic locations, like 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 also pay more.
- Median Annual Salary: More than $25.42/hour
- Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $16.93/hour
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: More than $12.40/hour
Source: Payscale.com, 2019
Education, Training & Certification
The training and education required to become a document reviewer varies depending on their previous background experience.
- Education: 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.
- Training: 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: Certifications on specific software or document review platforms can enhance a document reviewer's credentials by demonstrating a certain level of competence.
Document Reviewer Skills & Competencies
Document review can be tedious and requires specialized knowledge and skills, such as the following:
- Legal knowledge: It's helpful to have an understanding of the litigation process
- EDRM skills: Knowledge of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM) for gathering and assimilating electronic data can be very helpful
- Computer skills: Proficiency with document review tools is important
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.
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.
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.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for legal support workers over the next decade relative to other occupations and industries is faster than average, driven by pressure to become more efficient and to keep costs lower for clients by using less expensive staff instead of attorneys.
Employment is expected to grow by about 11% over the next ten years, which is faster growth than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. This growth rate compares to the projected 7% growth for all occupations.
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 is changing. As e-discovery transforms the industry, roles have become more hierarchal, substantive and complex. Document review jobs carry little stress and a decent work-life balance. Individuals can expect to work a full-time schedule with fairly regular hours.
How to Get the Job
PREPARE A RESUME
Prepare a resume that is geared specifically toward the duties or a job description for a document reviewer.
Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit the websites of individual law firms or visit them in person to apply to existing job openings.
Comparing Similar Jobs
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