Articles From the Team
Document Review: a declining market?
In the past 10 years we saw an increase in the number of lawyers turning to document review as a career choice. There were those who made a conscious decision along the lines of temporary being the new permanent. They chose to work in temporary contracts undertaking document review on an on-going basis. This was for a variety of reasons, mainly money and flexibility. Hourly rates on projects in the City were high and along with plentiful overtime hours paid at time and half and double time many document review lawyers had the potential to earn more than their permanent peers. Working in this way gave those who chose to the flexibility to take longer holidays. They worked longed hours on a project and then took a month or even longer off to trot the globe before returning to a new project to replenish the funds before the next trip. Their permanent peers were usually limited to 25-28 days annual leave in a calendar year.
In the past 8 years at BCL we worked with many top class lawyers from magic circle equivalent firms in Australia and New Zealand, who came to London on a Tier 5, Spousal or Ancestry visa and a large proportion of them worked as document review lawyers, sometimes for the entire time that they were in London. Most either returning home to join a good quality firm as an Associate and many get snapped up into permanent posts with top City firms.
Document review was therefore seen to be a smart and often lucrative way to fill what might otherwise be a gap on a CV.
In recent years and most certainly during this pandemic things have changed and document review as a long term career choice or even a short term gap filler is no longer as attractive and lucrative as it once was.
Firstly many law firms no longer recruit document review lawyers directly, instead they out source the work to specialist document review companies who are able to provide them with a cost beneficial solution, secondly there is such a huge pool of document review candidates in the market compared with the amount of work available that hourly rates are being driven down… it’s all about supply and demand. Finally candidates are no longer able to use a personal services company as a vehicle for payment and therefore the rate available to them is hugely impacted.
As a result of these factors we have seen many of our interim document review lawyers transition into permanent roles. Some have done it due to the lack of work available in the market, especially most recently during Covid -19 and the uncertainty surrounding it, whilst others no longer see it as being a lucrative option due to the changes in the way they are paid and the impact on hourly rates.
It’d definitely a changing landscape and seems to have come full circle and the document review boom certainly seems to be over for the moment. As the market continues to recover and the economy grows I am certain things will pick up and we will see an increase in the instructions for document review lawyers. Whether it will become a booming market again remains to be seen.