Document Review Best Practices: Review and Refine Processes for Better Results


In many complex litigation matters, the cost of document review is one of the highest expenses associated with a case. Part of the expense is driven by the attorney hours required to pore over a data set that may consist of millions of documents, even when the review is supplemented by sophisticated technology. However, the expense is also a reflection of the importance of document review. For example, it’s simply not acceptable for a privileged document to slip through discovery or an important email to surface as an unwelcome surprise at a key deposition.

In the not-too-distant past, a law firm would handle document review in-house as part of its role representing a party in litigation. Today, in most cases, that is no longer a feasible or cost-effective strategy. Instead, litigants are relying upon specialized, lower-cost resources, including alternative legal services providers (“ALSP”) like Lumen Legal, to handle the heavy lifting of a document review process. Sometimes a party will hire an ALSP to work with a law firm to conduct document review. In other cases, a law firm will contract directly with an ALSP to supplement its own resources.

High quality document review is driven by people, process, and technology. The right combination helps increase the effectiveness of the review and lower the cost of litigation. The people, process, and technology deployed on a project is critical, but the work done after a project is complete is equally important. Indeed, a full document review debrief following each project is what allows for the refinement and optimization of document review best practices so that efficiency and effectiveness can continue to improve.

Following each engagement, Lumen Legal conducts a full post-project review to identify how we can improve and refine our proven processes and best practices. We share some of our learnings below, so that others can benefit from our experience.  

Define the Goals

It’s important for the team conducting a document review to understand the goal of the project. For example, providing reviewers with context such as whether a project is related to a government investigation or standard commercial litigation is an important distinction. 

Coding Protocol and Case Materials

Providing clear coding protocols for relevance, privilege and confidentiality, as well as any supplemental case materials, in advance of the review start date can help ward off delays and increased costs. Having access to this information allows the Project Manager to align with the client and outside counsel, ask clarifying questions, identify missing items, and optimize team training.

Complexity and Extent of Document Review

Many cases demand in-depth analysis of data which requires the establishment of different review teams handling different tasks. For example, a first-level review for responsive documents should be supplemented by a smaller team of attorneys conducting a second-level review focused on quality control. The dynamic allows teams to identify any coding issues early during a review, correct them, and conduct additional training to drive efficiency.  Additional work may also include a privilege log and/or a redaction review. 

Access to Database

Having access to the document database before the review begins enables the Project Manager to verify that the database mirrors the coding protocol properly. This also allows a Project Manager to confirm that users have the correct permissions in the database.

Technology to Optimize and Expedite Document Review

Depending on the case goals, budget, data size and timing of a document review, it’s important to assess technology options and their unique capabilities in advance to determine which, if any, additional tools to implement.

Culling Terms Used to Reduce Document Count

Awareness of the culling terms used to reduce the document count allows a Project Manager to suggest additional culling terms by incorporating a clear context of case-specific substantive issues.

Privilege Terms

Identifying privilege terms in advance allows the Project Manager to ensure that appropriate terms are property highlighted in the database and to create searches to proactively identify privilege documents before review begins.

Size, Scope, and Workflow/Document Batch Plan

Understanding the size and scope of document batches—and the timing related to when they will be turned over to the document review team—allows a Project Manager to maximize efficiency and hit deadlines.

Document review, in and of itself, is not always particularly complex, especially as compared to some of the other issues that can hamper litigation. However, putting together the right people, process, and technology in a strategic way to enable document review to proceed efficiently and effectively is no simple task. It’s necessary to look at the big picture, and plan in advance, to ensure that the important issues outlined in this article are addressed. At Lumen Legal, that planning is informed by over two decades of experience building proven processes and utilizing industry best practices. Every post-project review is our opportunity to continue to improve upon that proven process and further elevate our service delivery model. A document review that begins well ends well, and the only way to ensure that each project integrates best practices is by continually re-examining the efficacy of those practices.


eDiscovery and Commercial Contracts Manager

Jordan has 11 years of experience in eDiscovery in both the data hosting and review management areas. He interacts with clients to provide up-to-date best practices in review management to ensure his clients meet their discovery obligations in a cost effective and efficient manner. His clients include law firms, corporate legal departments and government agencies. He is also a leader in Lumen Legal’s rapidly growing Commercial Contracts Outsourcing business which includes Lumen On Demand as well as Managed Service.

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