eDiscovery Best Practices: No Bates, No Problem for Native Files
March 08, 2011
As today’s document collections are almost entirely electronic in a format used by the native application (i.e., “native files”), it has become more commonplace to produce those original native files to opposing counsel in eDiscovery. Producing the native files saves costs in converting the files to be produced to an image format (either TIFF or PDF) before production. And, for the recipients of a production, receiving native files enables them to also receive the metadata associated with those files (as it is contained within the files themselves). If you don’t understand the benefits of receiving the underlying metadata, try reviewing an image of an Excel spreadsheet and see if you can understand how the numbers were calculated without the underlying formulas. Not so easy, is it?
However, it seems to “upset the legal apple cart” when attorneys have to contemplate applying Bates numbers to native files. Because many native file types are not stored in a typical paginated, document-oriented format, it is difficult to impossible to determine the number of pages for each file. Because attorneys are so used to having a Bates stamp on each page of a document, many are still known to produce (and request production) in an image format, adding costs unnecessarily. That would be like printing out every email in your Inbox before reading them.
It has become commonplace for parties to agree (and courts to accept) a file-level “Bates” or Unique Production Identifier (UPI) where each file is named with a prefix and a sequential number (just like a Bates number, only they’re not stamped in the file, but used as the file name). These productions are usually accompanied by a data file, containing metadata for loading into a review tool, which includes the original file name and path of each file being produced. This form of production has become common for any size of case.
If there’s a concern about referencing individual page numbers at deposition or trial, any files used as exhibits can still be converted to image (or printed) and a number applied. You could simply use the UPI as the prefix, followed by a sequential number, so page 3 of the 11th file in the production could be stamped like this: PROD000011-00003. This enables you to uniquely identify each native file, and still correlate the native file with pages when printed.
Of course, when you have to redact files, it's still more common to convert those files to image and apply the redactions to the images, as redaction of native files (though performed in some cases) has not yet become a widespread practice. One miracle at a time!
So, what do you think? Are your productions routinely in native format? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.