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The Altlaw Guide to Writing a Review Protocol

| Written by Imogen Fraser-Clark

Drafting a comprehensive document review protocol provides the best method for ensuring a high-quality and consistent document review, by proactively informing document reviewers of your expectations by delivering relevant information and directions.

A document review protocol will serve as a directing document, stating objectives, providing case history, reference materials, and explaining coding instructions to guide the document review team. Although, document reviewers will still have questions after a briefing call from lawyers explaining the engagement, a thoughtfully drafted review protocol will reduce questions and increase efficiency by proactively addressing probable questions through detailed instructions.

Although each matter will require tailored sections, typically, a document review protocol should cover:

  1. Introduction statement
  2. Case background
  3. Objective statement
  4. Case context reference documents
  5. Document coding instructions
  6. Privileged Documents
  7. Document coding reference document examples
  8. Corporate document services

Introduction Statement:

The protocol should begin with a brief introduction to the case and address the scope of the upcoming review. The introduction statement will serve as a quick reference point that document reviewers can refer to, ensuring they are staying within the scope of the assignment. Therefore, the introduction statement should familiarise document reviewers with the matter by the inclusion of a brief explanation regarding who are the parties, whom your firm represents, what is at issue, and what the document review will entail. The introduction statement should be concise since the case background section will provide specific case details.

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Case Background:

The section provides document reviewers with details about the matter’s inception to where the matter currently stands. Here, document reviewers will be able to learn the case’s procedural history, internal developments, case theories, and outside interactions with opposing counsel that may provide additional context to their assignment. Understanding how a task contributes to case objectives should yield a better document reviewer work-product by hopefully keeping document reviewers more engaged by explaining how their job contributes to the overall client engagement and goals.


Objective Statement:

The objective statement communicates the expectations of the review. The best objective statements provide the document reviewer with a clear purpose for their engagement and, ideally, will be referred to daily.


Case Context Reference Documents:

Lawyers should provide additional case context reference documents for document reviewers to gain a deeper understanding of the case. Questions about the claims at issue, timelines, and confidentiality are typically explained in depth in the matter’s pleadings. Provide these case context reference documents as reference documents where document reviewers may find answers to their questions. Additionally, lawyers should prepare a list of individuals and custodians that are relevant to the matter and review. While pleadings and requests for productions will provide names of relevant custodians, providing a list of proper names of individuals, companies, and their positions helps provide document reviewers with the context of the universe of documents they will be reviewing.


Document Coding Instructions:

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Document review protocol needs to explain how document reviewers should actually code documents. While each case is different, coding instructions should follow a general format to promote an efficient review. Coding instructions should be drafted to cover the broadest fields to be coded first, working your way to the most specific fields to be coded last.

The first document coding instruction should be the most expansive coding field; that is, a required field or fields that must be coded by each reviewer. Responsiveness would likely be the first field to code. Each document in the universe must be coded for responsiveness, responsive or non-responsive. Therefore, it should be the first issue covered in the document review protocol. Additional examples of broad fields to code in a litigation review for responsiveness could be further review required, technical issue, or foreign language. If these fields are relevant to the matter.

If Issue codes are to be selected by the reviewers, these should be listed next with explanations of when the various issue codes should be applied.

Following the most broadly coded fields, the document review protocol should proceed to provide instructions on how to code the more narrow coding fields. More narrow coding fields will be fields that do not apply to every document that must be reviewed but would be required to be coded if applicable. In a litigation review, the drafter of the document review protocol should list fields to code, such as Privilege, Confidential, and Sensitive Personal Information if these are applicable.


Privileged Documents:

Most document reviews involve the examination of privileged documents and work product materials. One good practice is to identify in advance lawyers and/or law firms involved in the matter so that reviewers are alerted to potential privilege issues. The list of lawyers and or law firms can be included in the protocol and we at Altlaw eDiscovery can apply highlights for lawyer names and law firms in Relativity to alert reviewers.


Document Coding Reference Document Examples:


A properly drafted document review protocol memorandum will include examples of coded documents. Examples of properly coded documents drastically shape document reviewers’ impressions on what is a properly coded document, and thus should be selected with significant consideration. However, improperly coded documents also help shape document reviewers’ perceptions so, lawyers should provide document reviewers with examples of both. In a litigation document review scenario, likely examples of incorrectly and correctly coded documents that should be provided to reviewers are examples of responsive, non-responsive, and relevant documents. If the examples are not abundantly clear, lawyers should draft additional notes on why each document is appropriately or improperly coded to deepen document reviewers’ understanding.


If you would like to know more about how document reviews are run here at Altlaw eDiscovery, why not take a look at one of these case studies?