Abby Rosenbloom and I decided to write a series of articles together related to the infamous world of managing a document review. There are no standards. There are best practices. There are personal preferences. There are lessons learned. I have known Abby for over 15 years. We have worked in different roles within the industry, but always seem to cross paths. It is fun to mind-meld our experiences on this topic.
In our previous article, we discussed Preparing to Begin a Document Review. In this follow-up article, we will discuss best practices for the use of coding panels in document reviews. We also continue with our theme of being effective and efficient.
Every review tool includes a software feature we refer to as a “coding panel” that allows a document review attorney to record their decisions about the document categorization. In many litigation matters with a large volume of documents, the document review attorneys will set eyes on the majority of the documents and certainly more than the lead attorney or partner. For that reason, we need to provide the document review attorneys with the most efficient means possible to communicate information about the documents back to the legal team to assist with the overall strategy in the matter.
We believe that less is more. A simplified, clean-looking layout will assure a better output for both accuracy and documents per hour. Different review tools allow us more or less flexibility to do this, but there are a few tips and tricks that can make even the most cumbersome tools more streamlined for efficiencies.
One of the first conversations we have with a new document review team is their ability to customize the look and feel of the software to suit their personal workflow, especially as it pertains to a coding panel, the document viewer, and the document list.
Most coding panels can be adjusted in size to take up more or less space on the screen and some coding panels can be detached or undocked as a separate window and moved anywhere on the screen.
Some coding panels allow sections to be hidden if the document reviewer may not need to see those sections all of the time. The better review tools have built-in shortcut keys for those document review attorneys that prefer less use of the mouse.
Giving the document review attorney the freedom to set up their work environment to their own preference should be allowed as long as it is within reason and does not interfere with the overall review protocols.
When designing the coding panel, the tags should be placed in a logical review order that is dependent on the current stage of the review. Make adjustments as priorities change through the document review.
A typical document review will have tag groupings similar to the list below:
Responsiveness (Responsive, Non-Responsive, For Further Review)
Privilege (Privileged, Not Privileged, Potentially Privileged, Redact)
Importance (Hot, Warm and Cold)
Issues (Case Related Topics)
Admin (Tech Issue, Decision Log, Question, Foreign Language)
Confidentiality (Attorneys Eyes Only, Confidential, Highly Confidential)
In terms of naming the tags, there are differences across the various review tools in the way tags can be ordered. The best review tools are flexible and allow us to organize the tags in whatever order we need initially and then change them as needed during the document review.
Some review tools force the tag order to be the order in which the tags are created. This requires the legal team to design their tag structure well in advance outside of the review tool and try to predict what other tags may be needed throughout the entire review.
Some review tools force the tag order to be alphabetical by tag name. If this is the case, rather than think of alphabetical ways to name your tags, simply add a numeric prefix (such as 1 or 01) before the tag name so that the tag sort order will be what is needed.
Another helpful tool is the use of color. Some review tools allow us to color-code the tags or tag groupings.
If the review tool does not allow tag groupings, you may have to include the category at the beginning of the tag name such as RFP 3 – Causation or RFP 26 – Pricing. Unfortunately, this causes long tag names which can make their visibility difficult without resizing the coding panel.
In some review tools, the naming conventions behind the scenes are separate from the front-end. In this case, it is a good idea to add a prefix to all of the names of coding panels, coding fields and coding tags to identify to the service provider that these were created by you internally. For instance, you could use your initials or the initials of your law firm or company.
Making document review attorneys scroll down the coding panel to reach pertinent tags is very inefficient and should be avoided. Keep the total number of tags to a minimum (10-15 tags). Excessive tags will cause a slower review pace and introduce more coding errors.
If there is enough time and too many issue tags, it may make the most sense to have a high-level first pass and then ask a separate document review team to perform a second pass for specifics using new sub-tags. It is faster to have document review attorneys focus on fewer decisions. They can get into a quicker rhythm when they have less to look for on the documents.
If you must have more than the optimal amount of tags, some review tools allow for the tags to be broken into separate pages or tabs.
Avoid “Black Hole” Tags
Tags that are named Other, Miscellaneous, or Unknown are unhelpful and should be avoided. Having these unknown categories can cause a large bucket (or black hole) of documents for which we have no idea of what unknown means.
During the document review, it is ideal if the review tool allows us to set up coding rules. For instance, we can set up a rule that says a single document can not have both Responsive and Non-Responsive tags. Another example would be if the document reviewer chooses a specific issue tag, they must choose one of several sub-tags as well.
Quality Check Section
The document review quality check (QC) team will typically go behind the initial document reviewers and look for inaccuracies in the coding. This QC team will need their own set of tags on the coding panel. This section can be placed lower down on the coding panel or hidden from the rest of the document reviewers.
Remember to set up QC Reviewer Overturn tags for your QC team to use. Tracking overturn rates are important to know which documents are being miscoded and to identify which document reviewers may require further training. For efficiencies and effective counseling, it is helpful to be able to quickly identify which reviewers made errors.
Review Admin Section
The litigation support professional who is managing the review will be tagging documents as well in order to organize the document datasets behind the scenes. There is bulk tagging that can take place during the document review.
These review management tags should be hidden from the document review team. Some review tools allow us to segregate individual tags by permissions. If that is not possible these tags need to be added to the bottom of the coding panel and perhaps assigning a color that means do not touch such as black or a similarly dark color.
If possible, a separate coding panel should be created for review admin use.
Internal Projects or Special Projects
In a litigation matter with a document review, there are often other projects going on within the document database at the same time. These internal sub-projects or special projects could be related to preparation for custodial interviews and additional collections, or preparation to give a status presentation to the client or the government, or to prepare for depositions.
If at all possible, a separate coding panel is ideal for any special project tags. It can be one single “special projects” coding panel that is separate from the document review coding panel. Most review tools allow for tags to be “repeated” on separate coding panels. For example, the special projects coding panel could display the responsiveness tags being used in the document review.
Separate Coding Panels
Hopefully, the review tool allows for separate coding panels. In addition to the reasons described above, we ideally use separate coding panels for privilege reviews as well as for new document collections or disparate datasets.
Comment Text Boxes
Adding comment text boxes to a coding panel can be helpful for document reviews. Some review tools allow us to customize which tags have text boxes associated with them. For instance, the tag designated for questions should have a text box allowing the document reviewer to enter their question. Other scenarios might be describing a reason for privilege, describing what should be redacted, or describing why a document has a Hot tag.
Coding Text Boxes
Custom coding panels with text boxes are helpful when information such as metadata is missing from a dataset. This can happen when data has been processed previously or collected poorly. In these instances, the reviewers will be coding the documents in order to add information. The review tool should allow for custom naming of these fields or boxes. This is helpful for maintaining consistent coding field information for the privilege log or searches. Another instance you may find this helpful is when analyzing opposing counsel data if additional information is needed to prepare for depositions or trial.
Visible Metadata Fields
Most review tools allow the document reviewer to see some document metadata fields. This can be helpful in identifying information about the document before making a coding decision. However, there are situations where too much metadata can be distracting. In this case, being able to have a coding panel option to reorganize the metadata or only show what is helpful to the document reviewers can eliminate distractions and speed the rate of review.
As you can see, the coding panel is the central component of a document review. After the review is completed, the results of the coding panel are relied upon throughout the rest of the matter. You get one chance to create a successful coding taxonomy for your document database. Take the time to create rough drafts of the coding panel and discuss them in depth with the legal team. Think logical, yet simplified.