Perhaps the Biggest “Gotcha” in Document Review is Not Knowing What “Done” Looks Like

Not everybody is a good cook, and very few “great” chefs are out there. It’s one of the reasons why the chain restaurant industry is projected to be over $120 billion just in the US this year, despite the COVID pandemic. Some people have no desire to cook; others may try but can’t seem to “get the hang of it.” As a result, their cooked meals come out undercooked, overcooked, or poorly seasoned – even with a recipe that provides detailed instructions. Furthermore, these inexperienced or untalented cooks and chefs have trouble knowing how to get “done” for their meals, which often makes them unsatisfying.

Planning and managing review projects are only for some. Many legal professionals don’t have the desire or the time to manage review projects. Yet, many are thrust into doing so with little time or minimal training to manage review projects, leading to low-quality results effectively, missed deadlines, or even inadvertent disclosures. In addition, one of many “gotchas” can derail your document review project.

A successful chef learns through training and experience how to cook multiple dishes and cook them all well. An experienced review manager understands how to plan the proper workflow for each unique review project. They both understand what “done” looks like for their respective disciplines.

The End Defines the Beginning

Well before beginning the review process, it’s essential to start thinking about the goals for the review that will take place, and you need to look at the plans for the end phases of the EDRM life cycle – Production and Presentation – to help define those goals and ask yourself questions like these:

  • Production: What types of documents will we expect to produce? What is the expected deadline to complete the production? What is the expected size of the review population after culling and filtering? Should rolling productions be considered? Should technology-assisted review be considered? Is specific expertise or technology needed for certain documents (e.g., medical records, CAD drawings, etc.)?
  • Presentation: What types of documents are most likely to be used in depositions, hearings, and trials that will help or hurt our case? How will they be used? Can we capture certain information (such as “hot” document identification or issue coding) during a responsiveness review that will facilitate downstream activities such as depo prep?

Those are just a few examples of the many questions that a review manager may need to consider, and no two document review projects are the same, so the questions vary from project to project (sometimes widely). Many legal professionals think the answer to completing a document review project by the deadline is to “throw bodies.” Doing so without an experienced review manager who defines what is “done” is like the lemmings following each other right over the cliff – you may get to a result. Still, it may not be the result you want.

The Project Management Triple Constraint

Experienced review managers also understand the project management triple constraint, where all projects focus on three specific constraints: time, cost, and scope (i.e., ‘the triple constraint’). The idea is that:

  1. Projects must be delivered within cost.
  2. Projects must be delivered on time.
  3. Projects must meet the required scope.

The scope is the “done” that drives the other two constraints – if the scope grows, the time, cost, or both must be more significant to complete the project. The famous saying for a project manager is, “you can have it fast, cheap, or good – pick two.” Experienced review managers understand how to effectively use the scope to make decisions to manage time and cost best.


We expect the chef to provide a great meal when we eat at a fancy restaurant. They can deliver great food while dealing with numerous variables (including special requests, how busy the restaurant is, etc.) because they understand what “done” is for that requested meal. Often, we go to a fancy restaurant specifically because we know the chef can provide a better-tasting meal than we can.

Experienced review managers understand how to define what “done” is – despite numerous variables to consider – before any document review begins. They have the knowledge and experience to avoid the most significant “gotcha” in document review today.

If you don’t know all the variables, you may have to deal with to define “done,” rely on an experienced review manager to help you get there. The ability of an experienced review manager to determine the “done” in document review to support those goals is key to the success of the review. Make sure you consider that when vetting potential review managers to ensure they understand how to define “done” to accomplish those goals. Failing to do so may leave you at the end of your review project with a bad taste in your mouth. Bon Appetit!

For more information about Sandline’s Managed Review services, click here.