Friday, January 13, 2012
This is an old post I wrote back in October but never uploaded.
That document review project I was on lasted only a month for me, and not much longer anyone else. The multi-billion dollar corporate merger it involved was cancelled by the DOJ as a trust violation.
No big deal. I got some more temp work almost immediately and have had my own cases pick up. I even had a trial in December, but more on that later.
I learned something very important on that project: something every lawyer should know.
So here is the big lesson I learned
Serve the bread first!
I’ve been working almost every day on this document review project. I’ve learned something valuable: start with the bread.
The place I’m working provides lunch. They lay out the food on these lined up tables and everyone walks from one end to the other in 2 lines, one on each side of the table, cafeteria style.
The other day they served build-your-own barbecue pork and chicken sandwiches, the food kept in those aluminum sterno-warmed serving trays. We all lined up to get lunch and at the starting edge of the table were the plates and flatware. Then there were trays with steamed vegetables. A good sign. There were then home-style fries and fried chicken, and then the delicious pulled pork and pulled chicken, then the cole slaw and lastly the bread.
Sounds delicious, right? Well it was. But did you notice the problem? If you’re assembling a barbecue pork sandwich as you walk along the table, what do you do with the meat when you come to it? Ideally you’d open up your bread and slap it on, but hold up. You don’t have any bread. It’s way at the end of the table. People ended up running up to the other end of the table to get a roll then running back hoping the line didn’t push ahead and they could still get back to the meat before the person behind them figured out what was happening. An ugly lump in the line ensued - or people settled for a plate-full of sloppy shredded meat.
So if you’re a caterer, and you’re serving a crowd build-your-own sandwiches, serve the bread first.
Of course there is a greater lesson to be learned here and that’s what I’m getting to now. Like a good server, I’ve left the meat of my discussion for last.
The sandwich line is an example of how lawyers are not experts at efficiency. There are experts at efficiency, but they don’t come out of law schools.
I’m a lawyer. I know the law. I like to read cases and rules and regulations. I like to see how a pattern of facts matches up to a statute. I’ve never built a car on an assembly line. I wouldn’t know what parts to start with. If I had to build a car on an assembly line I’d hire an expert at line-efficiency to work out the best way to get the car built with the least amount of time spent by line workers standing around waiting for parts.
Most lawyers don’t seem to think this way though. I think they get too focused on the legal twists that they are good at they neglect addressing the things they aren’t good at.
At the place I’m doing document review, there are somewhere around 200 contract attorneys (temps) reviewing documents - only most of the time we don’t have documents to review. We wait. We get paid to wait, to be here when the documents do come, but most of the time we wait.
Over us are maybe 6 staff attorneys, and above them one associate attorney. Their job is taking the documents that have been reviewed by a previous law firm for relevance and sorting them into batches to deliver to us to review for privilege. (if you don’t know what that means don’t worry, it’s not relevant).
Anyone with a manufacturing background will see the problem. There’s a 6-person bottle-neck. Those 6 people get to make the decisions about how we will address issues and to make on-the-spot decisions when the unexpected arises. They also form a review layer to look at what we’ve done and make sure things are working as they should. The process of batching and distributing should not also be stuck with them. Perhaps another level of temp attorneys could be hired to do that part of their job. The point is, we’re all standing round trying to make a sandwich and the firm is putting the bread at the far end of the table.
If I ever find myself as counsel on a large case that requires doc review, I will also spend a little extra for an efficiency expert instead of paying a bunch of lawyers to wait around.