Dentons tasked a former associate with a document review project. Over the course of around three months, the associate marked 425 documents while billing 277 hours. Except, in reality, he only ever opened 20 of the files. This got him fired and made him the subject of an ethics complaint.
I have some questions.
Reviewing 20 documents over 277 hours works out to almost 14 hours per document. Assuming the documents involved were not, in fact, manuscripts of Moby Dick, let’s operate from the premise that most of that time wasn’t spent reading. How did he pass the three months?
Document review isn’t necessarily fun, but you’d think a lawyer would open the review platform for an hour or two every day just out of curiosity.
How did he break up this work? Did he read 20 the first day and just call it quits? Because 14 hours per document works out to opening a document in the morning, staring at it all day, closing up bleary-eyed for the night, and then promising to finish up that one document in the morning. And billing for all of it.
But I’m even more fascinated by Dentons. It’s not like the firm had to conduct an elaborate cloak and dagger sting to figure out that their associate never opened 420 of the documents — it’s right there on the dashboard of every modern eDiscovery tool! Did they not look as the bills came in? Was there no sense of urgency in this matter? How did it take three months to notice?
And even if the firm dropped the ball on checking the status of these documents, if he’d actually reviewed all 425 documents over the course of 277 hours, that’s still roughly 40 minutes per document. How would that not be enough to trigger some sort of intervention?
The ABA Journal learned from Dentons that the firm discovered this before the client was billed. How? Is the firm not preparing monthly bills? Firms routinely dock people’s pay and bonuses for being mere days late with time entry. But these weren’t sent out for months?
So many questions.
Document Review [Legal Profession Blog]
Former BigLaw associate is accused of lying about time spent on document review project [ABA Journal]
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.