Blog

How Spinning a Good Yarn Can Improve Document Review in e-Discovery

Among the excellent papers presented at the DESI V Workshop earlier this summer in Rome, one held particular interest for me in connection with my role at DiscoverReady — Predictive Coding, Storytelling and God: Narrative Understanding in e-Discovery, by Lawrence Chapin, Simon Attfield and Efeosasere Moibi Okoro. The authors examine sources from philosophy and psychology to “make the case for the centrality of narrative, or storytelling, in constructing and anchoring” the theory of relevance to be applied by human reviewers in a litigation matter. In particular, they note that developing an effective understanding of relevance is especially important when using predictive coding technology, because human decisions about relevance for a relatively small set of documents are extrapolated to the larger collection of documents. Each human decision about relevance has consequences far beyond the single document reviewed.

While I’m glad to know that the liberal arts provide source material supporting this idea, at DiscoverReady we have long known intuitively that good storytelling is a powerful means of teaching document reviewers the case theory of relevance. People learn better when they are told a story — especially a juicy one, with a colorful cast of characters. And what’s juicier than a high-stakes legal drama? In the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, for example, the matters our clients engaged us to handle contained some of the most interesting stories in a generation, full of larger-than-life characters (who now are portrayed on screen by Hollywood stars like James Woods, Cynthia Nixon, William Hurt, and Paul Giamatti). By teaching document reviewers about the litigation through these stories, the reviewers are better able to grasp and retain important – and sometimes tedious – details, such as issues surrounding CDOs, mortgage-backed securities, and margin calls.

But even a gripping tale needs a good storyteller. In the DESI paper, the authors stress the need for a “chief storyteller” — someone who knows the matter intimately, but who also has the talent for crafting and communicating narratives. We encourage senior trial lawyers on our clients’ litigation teams to take on that role; they know how they are going to tell the story to a judge or jury, and therefore can be especially effective in delivering the story to the document review team. And they will be in tune with how the narrative evolves over time, as new evidence is uncovered, and can keep the teams up to date on the current theory of relevance.

How does this good storytelling relate to the document review service we provide to clients? Well, as review teams better understand the matter and what documents are relevant and important, their decision-making becomes more accurate and more consistent. And if they are deeply engaged in the story, their concentration improves and they work more efficiently. As consistency and quality rise, the need for quality control checking diminishes. The end result? Better work at a lower cost. And that’s a story we’re happy to repeat again and again.

Maureen O'Neill