Document Review Decision Logs: Maximize the Value of this Simple Project Management Tool

Nick Milton, who writes an informative blog about knowledge management, posted a short piece recently on the effective use of decision logs in project management.  Because decision logs are a standard practice in all DiscoverReady-managed reviews, I read his post with an eye to whether we could improve or expand on our decision logging practices.

I’m pleased to report that we seem to be in sync with Nick.  Our decision logs record all decisions made over the course of a project about the review guidelines — whether the criteria are changed, clarified, or amplified — as well as who made the decision and when.  We also keep notes about what Nick and I agree is extremely important: why a decision was made.  Without understanding the rationale for a decision, users of a decision log in a document review project may have a difficult time applying the decision to new documents encountered in different contexts.

But even a great decision log has no value if the review team doesn’t use it.  A log should be easily accessible to the reviewers, and affirmatively re-circulated whenever log entries are added or changed (or at regular intervals otherwise).  New reviewers on the project must be given a copy of the decision log — and a chance to carefully review it before they start looking at documents.

At DiscoverReady, we’ve taken decision logs to the next level, encouraging our clients to expand the simple decision log into a more substantive knowledge management and transfer tool.  By systematically recording important information about documents as we review them, we create a valuable knowledge repository that clients can leverage in the future.  These information logs also serve as an effective, efficient way to transfer knowledge to outside counsel on the matter, and from one outside counsel to another, as our clients face new matters and retain different lawyers to handle them.

To be sure, going beyond the mere coding of a document as “responsive” or “not responsive” by capturing detailed information adds some time and marginal cost to a review.  But our clients have found these logs extremely beneficial, and we are seeing more organizations ask for them.  Perhaps more of them are reading the work of Nick Milton and others who rightfully contend that good knowledge management generates a corporate asset with lasting value.

Maureen O'Neill