How to manage off-site project based Legal Staff

By: Raoul Mills

It is late afternoon and you just received a request for 30 temporary attorneys to work on a document review project.  The firm has a two week deadline and the team must start immediately.  You quickly realize, however, that you do not have the space internally to accommodate them so you will have to conduct the project offsite.  But, wait.  You have never managed a project offsite. There are so many issues involved and so much to coordinate in order to get the project site ready.  Staff and space will be easy to find since these days, almost every staffing company has offsite space and computers.  But once the project starts, managing a team offsite can be challenging.  There are, however, factors and issues to consider both before and after the project starts to ensure that things go smoothly and efficiently from beginning to end.  Effective project management is the key to keeping costs down.

Pre-Project Concerns to Consider

1. Size of space – Find out how many people the space will be able to accommodate. Then, see if there is a work station for an associate or paralegal from the firm and if it can be expanded or replicated quickly in case the scope of the document review grows to include additional attorneys and paralegal support. Consider a well-equipped space that will provide optimum environmental conditions for the review team, which means seeing if the space is supported with proper lighting. Will the HVAC capabilities be capable of keeping the team comfortable after normal business hours and during all seasons?

2. Space location – Not only is the size of the space important, but the location is important as well. Make sure that there are public transportation and parking around the area. See if there are several restaurants and eateries nearby where breaks can be taken. In addition, make sure the surrounding area is well lit and safe before and after traditional business hours.

3. Scheduled Hours – If you have been told that the team can work up to 60 hours, you will need a Project Manager to manage them during this time. After, decide if it will be okay to have people coming and going at all different times or if you need to have set case room hours.

4. Security of Space and Technology – It is important to check if the building has secured access afterhours and during the weekend. Does the internal space used as the document review facility have secured entry and exits? Make sure that that the space is also fully partitioned, maintaining complete confidentiality of all information being produced for a specific client. Also, the vendor needs to have the capability to monitor all computer usage, which means, reports need to be produced to verify what amount of time contractors may be on or off a specific URL or program. Lastly, Will Internet access for personal use during non-billable breaks be permitted?

5. Responsibilities – There needs to be a set division of responsibilities. For example, who will gather questions and then reach out to the attorneys for answers and who will track the productivity? Production standards for daily volume expected to be reviewed by each contractor needs to be set, while performance issues are dealt with. Someone will also have to review and sign time sheets and be able to direct others to staffing companies’ payroll department for processing.

6. Communication Protocol – Consider if there needs to be individual email setup to allow contract attorneys to communicate with firm attorneys overseeing the project. And if there will be a central point of contact used to gather questions and a way to direct them to the firm attorney.

7. Required Training – Firm may require specific instructions on how to distinguish tags that would be used to define document type’s i.e. – Relevant, Responsive, Privileged, Non – Responsive, and Hot. So, how much training on the software platform will be required and can the vendor providing document review software complete the training through Web technology?

8. Capabilities of Computer Network – Find out if the connectivity to the firm’s main server needs to be established and if the review will need to be hosted by e-discovery software provider. Next, check if the e-discovery vendor is available during evenings and weekends to address concerns with document flow. Then, see how many workstations can be operated off of the network being provided and then if there will be backup internet connections available if the project were to expand or if one network goes down.

Lastly, what software technology will be needed? Will you have the ability to monitor amounts of data being loaded and communicate with E-Discovery vendor to make sure that there is consistently enough data being uploaded for review?

Understanding optimal data collection structures for compiling, sorting and disseminating documents for use by contract attorneys is essential when managing team’s offsite.

Some other key factors to consider:

Technology Infrastructure – Determining which document software platform will be used will dictate what type of computer connectivity will be required. Will the software used as the review tool be self contained and managed from a local server or will it be web-based and connected to via the internet? Sometimes a temporary network with virus protection and a firewall is the preferred. Remote connections to “Vendor Hosted” review software programs should be tested from the off-site document review center prior to a project’s start. Internet service provided by symmetrical 50 mbps or greater data are the most desirable for large projects. Having a reliable Internet Service Provider line means predictable download & upload speeds when opening and sending documents. Twenty workstations can usually be adequately supported by a 50 mbps circuit while maintaining consistent download & upload speeds on any platform.

It is hard to be a savvy software buyer. There are several software vendors in the market today that are willing to host your electronically stored information and sell you the software to review it. Different review strategies may require different review platforms. Having worked with a platform previously can offer a higher degree of confidence it will work well for the review team off-site. Most firms choose to select platforms that do not just simply feature a database that merely lists all of your documents, but ones that feature innovative visual interfaces that can help you quickly identify and eliminate non-relevant documents using early-case-assessment tools.

Once the project gets started

Project Overview – On the first day, the staffing company conducts an orientation providing detailed instructions for administrative policies and procedures i.e – client overview, endorse confidentiality agreements, provide staffing company employee handbook, review company benefits, and demonstrate how to fill out time entry forms and expense reports. Then, the firm attorney provides a briefing of case being reviewed. After which, e-discovery training will be conducted with the contractors. Contractors are encouraged to bring forward all questions related to the substantive nature of the review in an open forum, allowing for other team members to learn from each other. Define to all contract attorneys’ appropriate lines of communication, acknowledging what type of information should be conveyed to staffing firm representatives versus those issues that should be directed to project manager or firm attorney.

Project Management – The Project Manager answers all non-substantive questions throughout the course of the review and manages the day-to-day administrative support issues. Productivity tracking will take place daily through e-discovery tool. Following two days of evaluating productivity from all reviewers, production expectations are established. Performance issues are addressed by Project Manager and staffing firm representative as required. Appointing a team lead from amongst contract attorneys can help ensure consistency with both quality and production levels when managing larger teams of contract attorneys.

Managing People

As the project progresses, the need to have ongoing, consistent communication with the contract attorneys will increase. Designated staffing company representatives should be selected to interface with all members of the firm’s project management and attorney teams. Ongoing updates regarding production quotas should be communicated as much as possible. Providing contract attorneys with open, direct, and immediate feedback on their actual performance as compared to expected performance will tend to correct any deficiencies that may exist. When appropriate, individual and team recognition should be awarded to promote good morale within the work environment.

Dealing with large teams of contract attorneys off-site means addressing personnel issues, when and where they occur. When a staffing company representative is present at the document review facility, these issues can be addressed as they happen. Problem solving requires listening to and addressing individual concerns, as well as those of the entire team. Maintaining respect for every issue, big or small, when approached with a concern from a contractor is important and promotes a perception of responsiveness and reliability. Reacting to situations as they occur helps to set the tone for an honest and forthcoming relationship.

When considering an offsite location to conduct a document review, it is critical that you involve your information technology staff at the on-set of the resource planning. Several technical questions should be asked regarding the overall capabilities of the space chosen as the document review facility. High quality off-site temporary staff management relies on understanding the needs and expectations of multiple parties. Having a precise plan of action outlining all details related to project management on-site should also be evaluated in comparison with how it will be treated off-site. Clearly there are advantages to hosting document reviews off-site when all project requirements are considered.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *