Skip to Main Content
by Mary Kate Sheridan | September 04, 2018


Binders of documents

Nothing seems to invite as much disdain from junior associates as document review. We see the sentiment peppered throughout responses to Vault’s annual Law Firm Associate Survey, with some associates praising their firms for sparing juniors from such “menial” work; some lamenting that while summers aren’t saddled with doc review, first years are clicking away; and still others downplaying it  (e.g., “As a first year, I do document review, BUT . . .”).

I remember being worried before starting at my firm that I would be stuck in a basement surrounded by boxes of papers for months on end. Fortunately, my fate instead rested in a sunny office with a variety of assignments ranging from research projects to memos to discovery responses to deposition prep to the dreaded document review.

What I quickly learned about document review, however, was the power I held as the reviewer. Perhaps I would have felt frustrated if doc review filled all of my billable hours. But as it stood, I realized the value I could add to the team, especially in terms of deposition preparation, strategy, and motion planning. If you’re thinking that I just drank too much of the firm "Kool Aid" or went delirious from clicking “responsive” or “unresponsive” for hours on end, hear me out.

Understand the universe

When I hear grumbling over doc review, I realize there is a missed opportunity to see the bigger picture. Think about it this way: the partner and senior associates won’t be looking at the universe of documents. Only you—and others slogging through documents with you—will know the totality of what is “out there.” In other words, senior attorneys are relying on you not only to sift through the documents, but also to report back on what you’re finding. If you take the responsibility seriously and don’t merely click as quickly as you can, your knowledge will become invaluable.

Have a voice

Why is your knowledge invaluable? Because you have information that no one else has, and that gives you a seat at the table. As a junior, there is a giant learning curve, and you may feel hesitant to speak up during team meetings. But having an understanding of the documents gives you a voice in brainstorming how the information affects case strategy, how it can be used during discovery and motion practice, and how to handle any damaging information. Not taking the job seriously is a true loss for your team.

Prep like a pro

One area where an understanding of the documents is beneficial is deposition preparation. As an associate helping with depo prep, you’ll be tasked with selecting documents to use as exhibits or determining which documents your opponent may use as exhibits. If you’ve been fully engaged in document review, you already have an understanding of what’s out there and what may be helpful, putting you a step ahead. And if you’ve executed document review thoughtfully, you’ll have a leg up on pinpointing the documents you need.

Show off your skills

By thoughtful execution, I mean that those running a document review can organize it in a way that will help down the line. Tags can be your best friend when you’re knee-deep in deposition prep. As a junior on the front lines, you should speak up about the type of information you are encountering and the kinds of tags and organization that you think would be helpful. By taking ownership of the doc review, you can show off your organizational skills, strategical prowess, and ability to take initiative.

Doc review may also allow you to demonstrate your management skills should you oversee contract attorneys, staff attorneys, or fellow associates. Instead of dismissing the opportunity as “just doc review,” consider how you can maximize the process and bring the most value to your matter through your leadership.

Shoulder responsibility

During doc review, you’re not only a gatekeeper, stopping non-responsive documents from getting through, but also a keen eye, spotting privileged documents before they escape un-redacted and recognizing information that will be critical to the case. It’s a lot of responsibility to make sure that the correct documents go out, privileged documents are correctly logged, and important documents are shared with senior attorneys.

Document review is a great way to dip your toes in the water of BigLaw, especially if your schedule is filled with other kinds of demanding assignments. It allows a junior associate to take ownership of a sliver of a case and become the go-to person on the universe of information. Rather than viewing doc review as a humdrum burden, consider the ways it can build your reputation and and professional skills.


Want to be found by top employers? Upload Your Resume

Join Gold to Unlock Company Reviews

Subscribe to the Vault

Be the first to read new articles and get updates from the Vault team.