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Monday, February 18, 2008

Lawyers Aren’t Boring – Just Ask Them About Tape Flags

Tape_flagsPeople say lawyers are boring. But that’s only half true. Lawyers may be boring to “people,” but lawyers are absolutely fascinating to other lawyers.

I know, because I am one. And I’ve actually had multiple conversations — some lasting the better part of an hour — about the use of Post-it-brand tape-flags in document review. That’s typical of the conversation you might hear over the Amstel Lights and Heinekens at law-firm happy hours.

Now, most people use green for “okay to produce,” but the rest of the colors could mean anything. Red could mean “privileged” or “not responsive” or just “important.” And yellow, orange, blue, purple, and white? Well, they run the gamut. Any one of them might be “redact,” “come back to later,” or “show to the partner.”

Personally, I found there were never enough colors. I once talked to a person who’d worked at a firm where they had hot-pink tape flags. Wow, hot pink! Can you imagine the possibilities? You could create a category called “somewhat important and there’s at least an argument for privilege.”

One associate I know — from a firm without the hot-pink flags — developed a whole system in which subtle details were memorialized by the corner of the document upon which the tape flag was placed. Purple flag top left? That’s “possibly protected by the spousal privilege, but the other side probably already has this document anyway, since they are very friendly with our client’s wife.”

It’s quite important for young lawyers to talk through these tape-flag issues, because poor tape-flag skills could sabotage your career.

I know someone who, very early in his career, was told by a supervising attorney that he used too many different colors of tape flags when reviewing documents. This “complicated color system,” as it came to be known, was not only the focus of his first annual review, it became a perennial topic in reviews for years afterward. This was the case, even though he never used the lousy “complicated color system” ever again!

I know this story is true, because that young lawyer was ME.

Thank goodness we didn’t have those hot-pink ones.

I blame my law school. They were supposed to teach me to “think like a lawyer.” In fact, they taught me to have thoughts such as, “The application of a law-and-economics approach on these facts would suggest a departure from conventional notions of constitutional jurisprudence.”

But as we all know now, that’s not how lawyers think. Lawyers think like this: “Is orange going to make my tape-flag system look too complicated? If it does, will that affect my chances at partnership? And what’s that out my window? SUNRISE AGAIN?????”

My point is this: From associates at the firm happy hour to the partner who reviewed me, everyone seemed to think tape flags were interesting enough to be discussed at length.

And you thought they were interesting enough to read to the end of this post.

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on February 18, 2008 at 08:33 AM in Culture | Permalink


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Anyone who doesn't get paper documents from time to time is wasting client money on small matters.

I actually worked black Lexis-stamped flags into the mix for a while.

Posted by: Anonamiss | Feb 19, 2008 10:40:36 AM

Hmmmm. These days almost all document reviews are done via computer and documents are categorically "tagged" as opposed to flagged. I'd cringe if an attorney brought me a box of anything, more or less flagged documents.

Posted by: Paralegal | Feb 19, 2008 9:30:11 AM

What's a post-it note? And how do you import it into Summation?

Posted by: jdr | Feb 19, 2008 8:38:31 AM

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