Not a Miracle Worker: 3 Realistic Expectations to Set in a Document Review

Published on June 16, 2023

Luke Riddle

Luke came to the eDiscovery industry straight out of college in a marketing and client education role. Through that process, he developed thought leadership around AI and alternative data sources that ultimately culminated in him speaking at ILTACON on using remote technology within the legal practice. He has also been instrumental on review webinars speaking on the economics of eDiscovery. Currently, Luke is an Account Manager at Acorn where he works with clients to understand how analytics, budgets, and timelines all fit together so that he can create a perfect workflow for their project.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure yet – most things are due yesterday if we are lucky and 2 weeks ago if we are doing things right. This is something that seems to hold especially true in document review. But let’s be honest with each other about this. We can craft a plan, budget, and assemble a team for you, but we can’t work miracles. Believe me, if I could, I would!  

If we have 100K documents, due last week, that need to be reviewed in 3 days through a holiday weekend, it just isn’t realistic. Sure, anything is possible with enough manpower and money, but throwing 100 reviewers at a project is probably unrealistic, and something I would never advise my clients attempting. So, assuming we aren’t working miracles, what we can do is proactively put a plan in place and create a road map to success that’ll give you real milestones, a set budget, and effectively hit deadlines.  

I’ve had the privilege of working closely with numerous law firms and attorneys, and over time I’ve discovered three aspects that make a real difference when it comes to maximizing the benefits of your review manager. First is setting honest expectations and timelines. Second is providing access to the project and review team metrics. Third is staying informed on budget targets and changes. 

So now that we are going to create a plan and understand the key aspects to address, let’s see why they matter and the impact they can make.  

A Strategic Approach: Setting Honest Expectations 

Just as in any phase of discovery, document review doesn’t lack surprises and something simple can become daunting quickly. But it doesn’t have to.  

The first step you can take to accomplish this is to ensure you set honest expectations with your review manager. For example, if the review was due ten days ago, let your review manager know so they can set realistic expectations. The same thing applies if the real deadline is six weeks away vs. four weeks. We can only plan around what we know.  

This allows us to strategically source the best-fit team for the job and allows us to advise if using artificial intelligence or prioritized review workflows could be beneficial too. AI and prioritized workflows don’t always make economic sense or create notable efficiency on smaller or faster reviews, but it should always be evaluated and discussed, as cost savings can be noticeable. Often, I see a cost reduction reach up to 15-30%, or tens of thousands of dollars.  

Technically, just throwing bodies at a review project and not taking a strategic approach can work. But this comes with its own risks, which are usually higher costs and uncertainty. With clear, real timelines, we can craft a team with proven performance that confidently can navigate us through our timeline. This will also allow us to focus on elevating the team’s individual performance and understand where we can train up or remove a member of the team if there is unsatisfactory performance.  

Along with transparency on deadlines, be clear and concise about what the review will actually entail, as these factors can significantly reduce and increase the timeline if not accounted for at the onset of the project. For example, a linear 1,000 single-page document review is very different from 1,000 PDFs that contain 10s of documents each, which may also require redactions.  

Keeping Tabs on Progress: Daily and Weekly Metric Reporting 

We owe it to our clients to keep them up to date on every step throughout their projects. You should set these expectations with your review manager at the onset so there is never a misunderstanding about where the project stands. What good is a plan, if you have no clue where we are at in it, right?  

Don’t just trust that everything is just running smoothly because documents are being tagged. You should have the facts and metrics to know that they are. I encourage clients to ask their review managers or partners for reports and statistics that clearly capture the review’s status and performance. Not only should your review manager already be leveraging these to optimize their role, but this can assist clients to make strategic decisions throughout the review process. For example, there can be trends that are emerging, a prevalence of key issues that they may want to examine, or key documents that can supplement their case strategy and communications with their end clients. Ultimately, we all put ourselves at a disadvantage by not leveraging the wealth of supplementary information that should be readily available throughout a project.  

At Acorn, we put a strong emphasis on analysis and leveraging these metrics at all stages as part of our review manager’s role, and ensuring our clients also have access to them through daily reports. What metrics should be tracked and focused on should also be discussed, as every client and case is different. Generally, these reports provide an overview of the project’s status and a granular look at each reviewer’s performance and decisions. At the very least, the reporting should include an overview of documents reviewed, remaining, percent complete, average project pace, and coding distribution. From there we then dive into the granular metrics on a per-reviewer level to see how each member of the team is performing. This could include their hours, document views, document edits, individual coding decisions, etc.   

These updates also allow our team to not only identify any potential risks and take action, but also opportunities to reduce time and costs. By maintaining and actively monitoring the metrics against the set goals and expectations, clients and their review managers can work together and find comfort in a successful and streamlined review.  

Stay in the Loop: Budget, Targets and Changes 

Once we have the timeline locked in, the other thing that will continually be top of mind is the budget, at least for me. In eDiscovery, no one wants to miss their budget targets, whether they’re set by their team or their client—but it is a possibility we all face from case to case. Fortunately, it is usually preventable and at the very least mitigable. 

Performance metrics are the northern star of the review. Specifically, the team’s average throughout. This ties back into expectations on what the review entails as complexities can take a throughput from 50+ docs/hour to 30-40 docs/hour. This can create a huge impact on the timeline of the project, which translates to impacts on the budget. By consistently reviewing the team’s throughout metrics, as well as coding metrics, this helps ensure the team remains on track. This also allows us to raise any concerns with our client immediately to set expectations and strategies on how we can adjust to bring the project back in line. 

Outside of this, I have developed a spreadsheet that allows me to understand and forecast how numerous factors, such as team size, throughput, rework, expansion of scope, etc. affect the timeline and budget. This allows me to confidently propose a team lineup and the resources needed. If a review’s timeline is 4 weeks, I won’t staff to hit 4 weeks as this provides us with little to no room to pivot or provide additional accommodation when needed.  

By looking at the review from various scenarios, I can get a sense of our worst and best case and find the sweet spot in the middle that allows us to mitigate any curveballs or unknowns. When these projects don’t have the luxury of pushing out a day or two, guaranteeing we can hit the mark regardless of any obstacles is essential. 


A huge part of our success at Acorn is continuous communication between me and the review manager throughout the project. I’ll focus on the budget and timeline and escalate any news to the client, sharing my forecasts and projections with my review manager and incorporating their input. The review manager keeps a focus on efficiency, monitoring the team’s performance, coding consistencies, and fielding questions, as well as implementing, recommending, and monitoring analytics and automation that can create real value for the client. By combining our focuses and keeping continuous communication throughout, we can cover all facets of the project. 

Clients should also always feel comfortable sharing their feedback on review processes, communication methods, and any other concerns they may have. Ultimately, we are here to help you, and anyway we can do that more effectively is welcomed. This feedback is also essential in ensuring that the review manager meets the client’s expectations and can provide opportunities for improvements.  

One thing I think we can agree on is that data continues to grow at a rapid pace and review projects show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Personally, these 3 expectations have been extremely beneficial for me and my clients in helping them have an efficient, well-run review for matters they bring over to Acorn. 

Remember, these expectations should be the rule, not the exception.  

About Acorn

Acorn is a legal data consulting firm that specializes in AI and Advanced Analytics for litigation applications, while providing rigorous customer service to the eDiscovery industry. Acorn primarily works with large regional, midsize national and boutique litigation firms. Acorn provides a high-touch, customized litigation support services with a heavy emphasis on seamless communications. For more information, please visit