New reviewers often express frustration about the number of rules involved in document review. Review attorneys are generally quite intelligent and hardworking people – being told what to wear or what to do seems, for many, insulting. Rules are necessary, though, because not everyone conducts themselves in a way that respects everyone working around them. I often struggle with presenting facility rules in a way that gains the maximum amount of compliance while also making it clear that team members should be open with their concerns. Often, though, explaining the reasoning behind the instructions is the most effective method.

In my office, we hand out our office policies along with project training materials, outlining basic rules that tend to stay the same between projects. One of these rules is a prohibition on the use of cell phones when at your desk. In today’s connected society, this creates more than its fair share of controversy.

The rule does not exist to make working miserable. It exists because (1) clients demand it as part of basic information security and (2) there are significant productivity benefits gained when team members aren’t constantly checking their personal devices.

Information security is a huge issue for clients outsourcing document review. Team members are usually engaged for a single project, carrying (in the client’s mind) little loyalty to the client, law firm or vendor. The information being reviewed is often quite sensitive. The possibility of collecting and transmitting client information using a cell phone is not just the plot of a bad Grisham novel; it can happen. Having enforced policies in place at the review facility to prevent the dissemination of that information is a requirement when working with almost any client. Use of cell phones and Internet come up during almost every client visit to the review facility. My office is also routinely audited by clients for compliance and we test our controls regularly to maintain our ISO 27001 certification.

While I have mixed personal feelings about the performance impact of access to outside connectivity while working, I have seen strong evidence that groups perform better without the significant distractions offered by mobile devices. Certain individuals are able to task-switch seemingly without issue and use the short downtime as an opportunity to personally recharge, but far more dive into a cycle of distraction at the slightest interruption. For some, even seeing others being distracted can lead them to stop their own work.

The days of being able to lazily move through a review population (often littered with easily non-responsive material) are long gone. Productivity expectations are high and, with advances in technology, much of the irrelevant content of the past never makes it to a reviewer’s eyes. Many more of the documents in an assignment are going to require serious concentration to ensure they are properly coded.

On an administrative side, the rule is a pain to enforce. I can’t – nor do I want to – monitor every moment of my team’s day. I prefer to allow reviewers the maximum amount of autonomy possible, walking by but not interrupting the work unless necessary. But, once I start seeing people sneak cell phones from their pockets and bags for a quick text or to check their personal email, I’m obligated to step in with a warning. If there’s a special concern like a hospitalized family member, requiring you to constantly monitor your messages, alert your supervisor. Usually a solution can be found.

Some facilities alleviate the administrative burden by abolishing phones from the room completely. In one office I worked with, each reviewer had a private, lockable cubbyhole in a lounge area. Cell phones, purses and all other electronics had to be stored there before entering the office. While there are some situations and clients for which this is necessary, I prefer extending enough trust in people to have them keep their devices in pockets or purses during the day.

In my office, we have dedicated non-review spaces for phone calls and surfing the Internet. If your review facility doesn’t have clearly-identified locations, make certain to ask. People get quite angry when someone has a phone conversation in the hallway outside their office or – and this has actually happened – in the handicapped stall of the restroom. We try to keep a small conference room available for private conversations (it even has a nice speakerphone that works far better than anyone’s cell); it’s available to anyone who asks, so speak up. It’s the perfect spot for taking a phone interview.

As with any non-work activity, it’s important to also mention billing and time allocation. Unless you have remaining time under a compensated break policy, don’t bill for time spent checking your personal email, texts and making phone calls. In my office, a certain amount of break time is included with every billable hour, but every office will have its own policies. Properly billing your time is an important responsibility. Make certain to understand and properly apply your workplace’s rules starting with day one.

I have the benefit of working in a facility dedicated almost exclusively to review – things get much more complex when working in a temporary setting at a law firm or client site. I once did a project in a temporary space in a client’s building, only to find that the rest of the floor was leased to a third party. Things like using the restrooms on our own floor or even getting water from what we thought was a shared break room caused significant problems. One law firm I worked with wanted us to track any time away from the computer (even though we never actually had much work to do at the machines) and needed us to ask permission to step away from our area. When working in a temporary setting, be doubly cautious about inadvertently offending those whose space you’ve invaded. Seek out advice and instruction from the project’s leadership on the policies and expectations and gently point out any specific concerns you encounter as soon as possible.

In any situation, unless it’s clear that you’re on a personal break, keep your cell phone safely stashed. Get up and take a break from time to time; it provides a perfect opportunity to check your messages.

No Texting While Flying the Space Shuttle image courtesy of Ian Kitajima / Oceanit.