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Legal Document Review Pricing Models

document review pricing

Approximately 73% of all eDiscovery costs are associated with the legal document review phase, according to a study by Rand Corporation. Indeed, document review may well be the most expensive and time-consuming element of your Discovery. But I’m here to tell you: it doesn’t have to be that way so long as you choose the right legal document review pricing model.

The traditional way to price document review has been – and still is – to charge by the hour. Prices can range from $35 to hundreds of dollars per hour per attorney, depending on factors like the level of expertise required and whether you need the reviewers to speak and read a specific foreign language relevant to the case.

Some vendors now offer “per-doc” document review pricing as an alternative to “per-hour” pricing. BIA has offered this option to our clients for over a decade now. Under this document review pricing model, the cost of review is based solely on the number of documents reviewed. So, if there are 125,000 documents for review, the cost would be based on 125,000 documents – and unless the client adds more, the price doesn’t change. With per-doc review, there are no billing surprises and no need for reviewers to add more hours to finish the project. Further, many aspects of legal document review projects that would cost extra in a per-hour model — like analytics, email threading, overtime and quality control checks — can be included in a per-doc model.

The predictability of the per-document pricing model doesn’t end there. Let’s take a closer look at how the differences between those two document review pricing models impact some of the most unpredictable aspects of a document review project.

Reviewer Downtime

Downtime is to be expected, whether it’s due to a network outage, software update, quick coffee break or a large document that takes 30 seconds or longer to load. With per-hour pricing, the legal document review attorneys are still getting paid during these downtimes, even if they aren’t actually reviewing any documents. Assume you’re paying 50 attorneys $50 an hour for legal document review; a mere 30 minutes of downtime would cost you $1,300. With per-doc pricing, the cost of the review won’t change because the number of documents hasn’t changed. The client only pays for each document to be reviewed, regardless of how much time that takes.

Errors & Quality Control

With the per-hour-priced document review model, when inherent changes and updates occur, the client is billed again for that work. An example of this is when new attorney names are added to the privilege list necessitating a search for those names in already-reviewed documents.

The client also pays for quality control checks to confirm that all documents are correctly categorized, that all coding and privilege calls are consistent within document families and more. A vendor using the per-hour document review pricing model may tell you that they’ll do three passes to ensure the documents are reviewed correctly, but at the end of the day, you (or your insurance carrier) is paying for each review pass.

Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering your burger medium-rare. When you bite into it, you realize it’s well done, so you ask the waiter to bring you another one, but cooked the way you’d asked. You wouldn’t expect to pay for both burgers, would you? Of course not. So, why should it be any different with legal document review? It doesn’t have to be. Per-doc pricing means that if it takes the attorney review team three passes to correctly review and categorize all the documents, that additional cost falls on the vendor, not the client.

Productivity & Efficiency

When you pay for document review, you expect it to be done accurately and efficiently. Under the per-hour pricing model, reviewers have no incentive to get their coding correct on the first pass because they are paid based on the number of hours it takes them to complete the review. The longer it takes, the more hours they bill – and the more it costs you, the client. With per-doc pricing, there’s significant incentive to code documents correctly the first time, which, in turn, makes the review happen more efficiently.

Generally, that speed and efficiency come from leveraging analytics (e.g., Brainspace, NexLP, Relativity Analytics and others) with people who are experts in administering those tools. To ensure accuracy and productivity for your next review, it is important to have established eDiscovery workflows and to partner with a legal document review team that incorporates machine learning technology into the process.

At BIA, not only do we offer a different pricing model than most providers, but we also staff our document review teams differently. While most law firms or vendors hire temp attorneys to handle legal document review projects, our in-house managed review team is an experienced group of full time, licensed attorneys. Because of that, our legal document review team brings added efficiencies, consistent quality and institutional knowledge, which ensures that your document review happens smoothly and correctly the first time.

When I joined BIA in 2009, our goal was to grow the document review business, but I knew it had to be staffed differently than the traditional way of using temp attorneys. Having been a temp attorney myself, I know that, unfortunately, they tend to be treated like a commodity. And if you’re not fast enough, you will get a call saying not to come back the next morning because plenty of reviewers in line behind you will perform the requisite review tasks more quickly for the same low rate.

Treating review attorneys this way breeds a mentality where all they’re doing is trying to get through documents quickly. But that “speed” comes at the price of accuracy and quality. There’s real psychology behind performing legal document review — and the implications can be extremely negative for temp attorneys. For example, temp (contract) attorneys are competing against one another in the job market, so there’s no incentive for them to evolve as a team. When reviewers aren’t working together as a team — and because contract attorneys move from job to job so quickly — they remain strangers to each other. There’s no dialogue throughout the day and no trust between them, which negatively affects the document review project’s overall success.

For more examples of the psychology behind document review, listen to Above the Law’s Thinking Like a Lawyer podcast with Joe Patrice and Kathryn Rubino — featuring yours truly.

When looking to staff your next document review, it’s important to look at the different document review pricing structures, but don’t forget to consider more than just costs. A team of full-time, experienced review attorneys goes a long way in improving efficiency, accuracy and consistency throughout the process.