The outbreak of COVID-19 around the country has ushered in an era of social distancing. States and cities around the country are issuing stay-at-home orders and/or directed health measures that limit public groups to ten individuals or less. Those orders are intended to break up groups of individuals to help limit the spread of the coronavirus and flatten the health curve. Most document review centers fall squarely within these orders—document reviews are often conducted by rooms filled with individual attorneys, often far more than ten. Unless considered “essential” in the locality, these document review centers may not be able to continue to operate.

How can you respond? While jury trials have been postponed in courthouses around the country, discovery (in large part) continues. So what do you do if you have a need for document review but your review centers are shut down?

The good news is that document review can be done remotely. But be careful to make sure your document review provider is equipped to handle this kind of work. Here are four questions to ask your provider.

Question 1 – What is your experience in handling remote reviews?

Although the technology has long existed to handle remote reviews—and our firm has been handling them remotely for nearly nine years—in our experience most reviews still are handled in person at document review centers. The transition to remote work brings a host of logistical and other challenging issues. Trying to sort these out on the fly, and transition from an in-person workflow to a remote workflow, can be very challenging. Ask questions upfront about whether your document review team has handled remote review projects before.

Question 2 – What data security protections do you have to ensure the integrity of my data?

Strong data security protections are often easy to implement in an in-person document review. Computers, physical space, and internet connections/firewalls are set provided by the review vendor and because the review takes place at their facility the vendor can ensure 100% compliance. Other restrictions, such as downloading documents, disabling of printing or other downloading of client data, and restriction to email, are often all implemented by the vendor. Having an in-person review manager can also ensure that there is not any other unauthorized access to the data (e.g., taking a snapshot of software code with a reviewer’s smart phone).

Operating remotely creates a challenge for implementing these same security measures. What computers are being used? What protections at the site do you have to protect hacks for the Wi-Fi network? What software do you have on your computers to protect against unauthorized access to the data? Can you remotely cut off access to printing or screen sharing? Often review vendors have not had to think through these issues. While the problems are solvable—our team has spent years putting together a robust set of software, securities policies, and other practices to ensure that our clients’ data is secure—you should explore your vendor’s ability to secure your data (or your client’s data).

Question 3 – How will your review team be managed internally?

In a review at a physical center, workflows are fairly easy to manage—the center opens at a certain time, it closes at another time, and review managers are physically present to answer questions. Managing a team remotely can be just as effective, but it is far more challenging. Does your review team have workflows in place such that each reviewer knows what to work on next, whether or not the review manager is available at that time to manage the next assignment? When reviewers are no longer checking in at 8AM and out at 4PM, and have interruptions to their day, is your team equipped to adjust to those needs? Or will reviewers be stuck with availability to work, but uncertainty on what to do? Having workflows in place for distribution of work and time management will have a direct effect on the cost, time to completion, and overall efficiency of your review.

This problem is compounded if you have an unknown review team filled with temporary review attorneys. How do you know an individual’s level of training, knowledge, and experience? Do you have a measure to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and give them work that maximizes those strengths? What quality control screens do you use to identify strong candidates?

Ideally, these are W-2 attorneys who are known members to your review firm. Our review teams are comprised of W-2 employees, not temporary contractors. If they start on a review, they stay on a review, and they often are able to work on multiple review projects for an individual client, gaining the type of institutional knowledge that creates efficiencies. (We are also finding our long-term teammate relationships important as we communicate with each individual about any work disruptions, childcare needs, and other issues presented by COVID-19.)

A remote team can be incredibly effective or it can be incredibly inefficient—ask the right questions to make sure you’re getting an accomplished and experienced remote team.

Question 4 – What Procedures Do You Have In Place For Timely and Effective Lead Law Firm Management

One of the most important things is to make sure that you and your chosen lead law firm have the trust and confidence of the review team. In a review center, the workflows are more readily present to build that trust—a review manager is available to answer questions in real time, at the same time that reviewers are working, and to escalate questions to the lead law firm as needed.

In a remote setting, that can pose a challenge. Are procedures in place to elicit necessary feedback in a timely manner when this work transitions to a remote platform and to ensure the trust of the firm? How are questions being managed to ensure that feedback can be provided in real time to the reviewers? How can questions be raised with the lead law firm in a way to build trust in the decisions being made in the review?

This can be done. Over the last nine years our firm has refined the feedback loop to implement workflows that enable real-time feedback not only between review managers and the team, but for feedback to quickly be obtained by the review manager from the lead law firm, and transmitted immediately to the review team, eliminating unnecessary backtracking to adjust to evolving parameters, ultimately adding to the efficiency of your review.

Bottom Line

COVID-19’s impact has been felt around the country and with every industry. The legal industry is no exception and there is a particular disruption for in-person document reviews. Looking for a remote team that is experienced and has the tools and workflows to manage a review remotely can be an excellent solution. Make sure you’re asking the right questions.

Hilgers Graben PLLC is here to help. If you or your company need e-discovery counsel or review services, contact our team here or call us directly at 402-218-2106.

About Hilgers Graben PLLC

Hilgers Graben PLLC is a nationwide litigation boutique headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska and specializing in complex commercial and intellectual property litigation, discovery counsel services, and trademark services. The firm leverages low-cost locations and innovation to provide superior legal services while driving down costs for its clients. It was named for the third year in a row to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America and was named the fastest-growing law firm in Nebraska. The firm has offices in Nebraska, Dallas, and Denver. For more information, please visit www.HilgersGraben.com or contact info@hilgersgraben.com.