From time to time the legal blogosphere erupts into discussion about contract lawyering, or, more specifically, contract document review. And this week seems one of those times.
In American litigation there’s always a stage known as “discovery,” where parties request documents from each other. In commercial litigation these requests often result in voluminous productions of documents, which require review at least twice: once before it’s produced, to ensure that the documents being disclosed are responsive to those requests and also not privileged, and once when it is received by the requesting party to see if it is helpful to its case. Both reviews (though particularly the former) can be extremely labor intensive. While they used to be done in vast warehouses of bankers’ boxes, thanks to advancements in technology the reviews can now be done electronically, by clicking through documents on a computer screen. (On the flip side, however, this same technological innovation has also increased the workload, as the ease of emailing and electronic document creation has vastly expanded the universe of documents that need to be reviewed.)
So to handle the workload, many law firms turn to contract lawyers to help them. As I’ve written before, I think contingency work should be a perfectly legitimate way for licensed attorneys to make a living. In fact, I think contingency work should be a legitimate way for nearly everyone to make a living. Instead of employers having to guess at their workloads and permanently staff up in order to cover the busier periods, bearing all that overhead for salaries and benefits, they can bring on people as needed, who get paid more cash for their time in lieu of the stability and benefits of a permanent position. As long as the contractor prefers this arrangement — and many, for many reasons, do — everyone wins.
Or can win. But clearly not everyone does, and a few blogs have sprouted to lament the plight of the contract doc reviewer.
As someone who has done contract document review I sometimes follow these blogs in order to keep abreast on the industry, but at the same time I’m often put off by the overwhelming bitterness they espouse. At the same time, underneath the anger I think they reveal some valid, and unfortunate, points about this aspect of the legal profession. So I was moved to answer some of the recent criticism of these blogs I saw on another.
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