What changes are expected for the Document Review market and its lawyers in 2021?
Covid-19 and the ensuing restrictions have had, and will have, a profound effect on the workplace long into the future. My sector, the recruitment and job market, has been impacted by countless factors including but not limited to furlough, redundancies, working from home, and general uncertainty in the economy.
As Document Review forms an important part of the interim recruitment desk at Chadwick Nott, I have explored how a couple of issues, both directly and indirectly, affected by the pandemic will have an influence on this type of legal work.
Working from home – will it continue?
I think it’s fair to say that in March 2020 we all watched in shock as the whole country was put into lockdown. To me, it felt very surreal, as though I was watching a movie with Boris Johnson as the main star, announcing the measures we were being asked to live by for the next few uncertain weeks. To some, being locked down at home came as a huge inconvenience, to others it was more of a novelty. But I don’t think any of us expected to be in the same situation 12 months down the line.
Like all of us, our document review clients had to adapt quickly to the changing nature of work and decide very quickly how they could organise the recruitment, on-boarding and management of multiple large teams within very short timeframes. In our modern world, most lawyers will of course have some form of online capability at home, so we very quickly needed to identify who had the means to access the online eDiscovery hosting sites, then provide them with the necessary software and login details. The client management of these reviews followed with everyone connected via e-mail or chat facilities and with very sophisticated reporting functionality available, this became manageable quite quickly. Twelve months on and this way of working has become the norm.
Do I see this changing? Many commentators have aired their opinion on the changing workplace over the last few months. For document review I think we will certainly see a greater openness to flexibility, but many of the legal outsourcers who provide this service will currently have large empty expensive offices that need re-filling. They will also have clients who, given the option, would prefer to have their confidential data stored in a secure and managed environment. I therefore definitely see a push to move document reviewers back into the office as things return to normal because part of the value added by outsourcers are the facilities and security they offer. However, I do think we’ll have more receptiveness to contractor lawyers working from home where the circumstances may require it. If, for example, the requirement is for a ‘hard to find’ language and the available candidate isn’t based near the office, or potentially when there’s an immediate requirement to grow a project with very short notice. We occasionally also speak with clients looking to find both reviewers and hosting facilities including IT equipment and offices. Given this scenario, I certainly see a greater opportunity and appetite to employ reviewers remotely.
Whether we see an established outsourcer decide to make the move to 100% remote remains to be seen. I can certainly see the potential for cost savings to be passed onto end clients if we do, but whether or not in normal times the end client would be happy for this arrangement is undetermined.
IR35 – will it affect pay rates?
The IR35 regulations are still a hot topic, although postponed in the private sector due to the pandemic. While I will leave the merits, fairness and politics of the Off-Payroll rules for another day, it’s certainly a very contentious issue. Now that the 6th April deadline has passed, I expect all document reviewers will have heard from their agency or employer regarding the end client’s decision about their “off payroll” status. The trend does certainly seem to be that clients have decided that document review falls inside the regulations and have therefore asked limited company contractors to move to a compliant engagement model - either PAYE or umbrella company.
The result of these changes will mean that contractors who had previously worked via limited companies will find they are taking home less on a weekly basis due to an increased tax burden. It’s quite possible that some contractors may therefore look to move into a permanent role because of this. There has always been movement in and out of the document review market, some lawyers taking part in projects in between longer-term roles and others who are career reviewers having been involved on countless reviews for many different clients.
This type of regulation change, however, certainly has the potential to change the landscape of the market. The most common question I’m currently asked is whether due to these IR35 changes, pay rates will be increased to compensate for the loss in the pockets of the limited company contractors. My thoughts right now are probably not, at least not straight away. What may affect the pay rate is if we see reviewers walk away from this line of work. Market dynamics would dictate that if we see a decrease in supply or availability we may see an increase in the pay rate. Higher rates are available with the harder to find language skills and if post-regulations we do find it harder to recruit for review roles then this may slowly start to factor into the rates of pay available. I certainly wait keenly to see how the market reacts in the first few keys months of the new regulations.
Whether the changes we have seen over the last 12 months are here to stay remains to be seen, although “Off-payroll” rules certainly seem like they are.
In one way or another, Chadwick Nott are on hand to support businesses and lawyers with their recruitment and employment needs. If you do need support or advice on Document Review or any other legal interim work please do get in touch.
Chris has more than 15 years of legal and financial recruitment experience. Since he joined Chadwick Nott he has worked within the interim legal team, providing support services to clients and candidates as well as in the fast-paced document review market.
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