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Chris Niccolls

Linear Document Review Is The "False Gold Standard"

By February 23, 2013

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PHOTO: All Rights, Microsoft Corporation

When you look at the results of Linear document review, you have to wonder why anyone would think it's the "Gold Standard." It cost far more than it should, and the results are, well, awful. Lots of mistakes, little agreement between reviewers, missed deadlines, every kind of mistake imaginable. We have much more automated review processes (TAR, or Technology Assisted Review), which take less time, are far more accurate and cost a fraction of the price. Yet, lawyers still prefer Linear. Why?

In the end, you have to assume that lawyers are willing to produce a bad product at too high a price because Linear is... familiar. Not better, not superior, it offers no benefits, but it is what lawyers feel comfortable doing. TAR is better in just about every way, BUT it is far more dependent on technology, math, project management, and data analysis. Not exactly core skills for the average lawyer. TAR is a superior process, but the gap in skills makes lawyers want to stay with a broken process because it is "lawyer-centric."

That's a big problem. The fear of crossing over into TAR is forcing law firms to act in increasingly unethical ways. Linear review clearly overcharges clients for the results they recieve. As long as every other lawyer continues to produce use only Linear reviews, it's not quite unethical. However, as more and more TAR is used, lawyers who continue to advise the use of Linear are on ever weaker ethical grounds.

TAR is consistently more accurate, higher quality, quicker and much less expensive. There are no objective reasons to prefer Linear, EXCEPT the fact that it is still the most-used form of review. However, judges are making decisions favoring TAR, and TAR tools are being used. Very soon now, law firms that have not moved to TAR are going to be at a massive disadvantage. The only way that many law firms will be able to make the transition to TAR, is to outsource most of these functions. Lawyers should interpret court orders and present results to the court, and continue to be involved in the review process, but the vast majority of the document review process needs to be outsourced if it is to be done well.

Every time technology changes, there is a pause. The masters of obsolete technology are very reluctant to move into this strange and unfamiliar territory. Yet, those firms that wait until they are comfortable may be destroyed while they wait. Look at the extinction of brand names that waited too long for the transition to integrated circuits? Do you remember RCA, Zenith and other extinct television brands that didn't transition to flat screens? Remember Fisher, Craig, and other stereo manufacturers who through CD's were a fad? Recognize Linear review as the fool's gold that it is; outsource document review and switch to TAR and avoid extinction!


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