Around the world and across industries, remote work is becoming increasingly entrenched. Organizations have been forced to challenge the status quo, and employees have had to learn new ways of engaging, communicating, and staying in the loop. 

We spoke with Denika Thomas, an attorney and Director of Legal Recruiting who specializes in recruiting and placing attorneys on document review projects. She shared her thoughts about how people on all sides of the equation are adapting to the demands of remote environments. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Denika, you’ve worked in recruiting and attorney placement for a long time. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I definitely enjoy the sense that I can have a positive impact on peoples’ lives. Helping people find great jobs, helping them connect with new opportunities – it’s a wonderful feeling. There’s a kind of instant gratification in knowing that you might interview an attorney on Tuesday and have them working on a project on Wednesday. And the knowledge that I’m helping clients reach their goals is really gratifying as well.

What does it mean to engage in a remote review project? How does it work?

Essentially, remote review means the review attorneys are working in a secure workplace that just happens to be their home, as opposed to being onsite with us. We’re still reviewing documents for our clients on whatever platform the client chooses to use, and we’re still employing protocols and technologies to protect confidentiality.

Let’s talk about remote review projects from the client perspective. Do you think that firms were ready to embrace remote review when the pandemic hit?

A lot of firms were not ready. Traditionally, onsite reviews were preferred, because there was this sense that having everyone in the same room offered greater oversight, as well as the ability to quickly answer any questions that might come up. There were also concerns that the lack of collaboration among reviewers would negatively impact the project. But now that we’ve done it for several months, and on engagements that ranged from a single reviewer to more than 300, in retrospect, the transition was actually almost seamless. We’ve been able to find ways to communicate with the reviewers remotely and collaborate by implementing different tools, and I think that the technology has actually provided a lot of benefits for everyone involved.

How has this transition played out for people who were previously adamant about needing onsite, in person reviews? Any aha moments?

Overall, I’d say everyone has adapted, and fairly quickly, because essentially they’ve had no other choice. But I also think it’s important to note that when we started our first remote projects, we were able to demonstrate our technology and our capabilities first-hand, and that was a really powerful testament. It gave our clients a great sense of how very comparable it is to an in-person, onsite review. I think that was a bit of an aha moment.

How are things different for the reviewer? Do you think they’ve had to embrace a significant shift in their work, now that everything is remote?

There was always an expectation that reviewers would be closely engaged with the review manager and the project in general, but now that everyone is remote, I’d say there’s an even stronger emphasis on maintaining open lines of communication. Reviewers need to check their email, text messages, and voice mail regularly and ensure that they’re in contact and communicating timely and effectively.

Do you think that might become unduly taxing at some point? How do you protect work/life balance?

We maintain windows during which reviewers are expected to be online and responsive. So whether it’s from nine to five or nine to nine, they have a defined period when they’re “on duty.” That said, we do occasionally have projects with really tight deadlines and open-ended hours, and that can become taxing, but it’s up to the individual to choose whether they want to be part of such a fast-paced project. That has always been one of the biggest benefits this type of work provides for the reviewer: flexibility.

As an HR professional, what kinds of trends are you seeing? Are clients specifically asking for people with experience in remote reviews?

Yes, we’re finding that candidates who have worked remotely before have more reliable technology and connectivity in their home office, so less effort is required to ensure that everything is compatible and that the reviewer has everything they’ll need to participate in the review. Additionally, they’re used to working without direct, in-person supervision, and that’s an advantage as well.

So how do you verify that a candidate has worked on remote reviews in the past?

Thankfully, due to some very large projects that we recently staffed, we already had a very robust candidate pool of reviewers with remote experience. And remember, at the onset of the pandemic we had to transition all of our current reviewers to remote status, which means our pool has just been growing for the last six months. So we have great teams that already have experience with remote work, and we can attest to that experience.

You mentioned that the client can choose any review platform. Is that a benefit of review staffing? Having access to people who know all the different tools?

Clients almost always have a preference, and they always want us to choose candidates based on their platform and review experience. So yes, I’d say the fact that we offer a large pool of broadly experienced people is an important benefit, since it allows us to better staff the project according to the client’s preferences and requirements.

What is your strategy for remotely onboarding reviewers for a project?

We’ve had to update and adapt a few things – for example, we used to collect reviewers’ credentials in person, during their interview. But since that’s not possible now, we’ve adopted a web portal that allows the reviewers to upload their CV, Bar records, and other paperwork to our system. And so far, it has been working out really well.

Do you think some people won’t ever go back to physically being there?

Yes, I think a lot of clients will ultimately decide to remain remote. I think we’ve proven that the level of efficiency is still there. The level of responsiveness from the reviewers is still there. As long as they’re receiving the same level of service and the same level of commitment, I think we’ve proven that it works. I expect that remote reviews will likely be a common feature of the landscape in the months and years to come.