eDiscovery - Native Files Vs PDFs: Which Should Your Small Law Firm Use for Productions?

19 January 2019 by Anith Mathai eDiscovery small-law-firm pdfs native-files

Takeaway: Produce files in their native format, as far as possible. You lose data when you convert them to PDFs. But if you have to convert them, find good eDiscovery software that can minimize the amount of data you lose.

What are ‘native’ files?

Each application you use creates files in a particular ‘format.’ Which means, it structures the file’s data in a specific way. So, for example, Microsoft Word creates docx files (a file with a ‘.docx’ extension). That extension is unique to Word. And it tells your computer to use Word to open the file. This is the ‘native’ format of the file. I.e., the format in which it was originally created.

If not ‘native,’ then what?

You may need to convert your Word file into another format. For example, a PDF. This PDF is now called a ‘derived’ file. And you’ll open the derived PDF with Adobe Acrobat.

Why convert files out of their native format?

Wherever possible, you’ll want to stick with native files. But sometimes, derived PDFs may be the better (or only) choice. You’ll understand why after looking at the tables below. They cover the pros and cons of native files and derived PDFs. Either way, meet with opposing counsel early and discuss what format you’ll be using for productions.

Pros and cons of keeping files in their native format


  • You see things that you’d lose if you converted a native file into a PDF (e.g., ‘track changes’ in a Word doc).
  • You get valuable ‘metadata’ (explained in the next section).
  • You can work faster, by batch-processing similar file types – e.g., Word docs, Excel sheets, emails, etc. With derived PDFs, you can’t tell them apart.
  • You can ‘produce’ files faster since you won’t need to convert them into PDFs.


  • You can’t always get the native file. For example, your client has deleted all original emails. Or can’t remember where she’s stored them.
  • You can’t always get the original software. You’ll need it to open the file. So, what if it’s too expensive? Or hard to find?
  • People can tamper with your files. Or you can mistakenly modify them.

Pros and cons of converting native files into derived PDFs


  • Opening the files is easy. They all open with Adobe Acrobat. Instead of with unique software for each type of ‘native’ file (e.g., Microsoft Word for Word files, Excel for spreadsheets, Outlook for email, etc.).
  • It’s easier to Bates stamp and redact PDFs.
  • No one can tamper with your files. Or mistakenly modify them.


  • You lose valuable metadata (explained in the next section)
  • You lose essential info in the conversion. E.g., the formula behind a number in an Excel sheet.
  • It’s harder to search a PDF for keywords than it is to search a native file.
  • You lose ‘connections’ between files. E.g., a native email and its attachment are linked. But that link gets broken when you convert them to PDFs.

Metadata: Why it helps to keep files ‘native.’

There’s special information attached to native files. Information you won’t see unless you know where to look. Information like who created the files, when they were created, when they were last opened, etc. This ‘data about data’ (i.e. metadata) is a digital footprint which tracks the history of the document. Metadata can make or break your case, but you lose it all when you convert a native file into a PDF. Which is why as far as possible, keep files in their native format.

What if I have no choice and have to convert native files to PDFs? Will I lose the metadata?

Not if you have the right eDiscovery software. The eDiscovery application GoldFynch, for example, lets you work on the derived PDF while keeping the native file available and untouched. So, the metadata is safe. In case you need it later.

Need help with eDiscovery productions? GoldFynch simplifies everything.

You can:

  • Choose your production format: Native or PDF/TIFF. And with PDF/TIFF, you can produce (1) all documents in one PDF/TIFF, (2) each document in a separate PDF/TIFF, or (3) Each page of every document in a separate PDF/TIFF. And even in PDF/TIFF productions, you can choose for certain files to be produced in their native format.
  • Stay organized. GoldFynch helps you Bates-stamp and tag files. And gives you a ‘production log’ with useful info like how many files are in your production, how many pages per file, what format they’re in, etc.
  • Share productions from within the GoldFynch software. You’ll share a link with your team and it’ll tell you when they download or open the production. You can also invalidate the link, if, for example, you share it with the wrong person.

Learn more about producing files in GoldFynch

GoldFynch is known for more than just great ‘productions.’

It’s a complete eDiscovery package and has some cool features for small law firms like yours.

  • Pay just $27 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s far less–every month–than the nearest comparable software. And hundreds of dollars less than many others. With GoldFynch you know what you’re paying for exactly – its pricing is easy to understand and readily available on the website.
  • It’s simple to budget for. GoldFynch has a flat, prorated rate. With legacy software, your bill changes depending on how much data you use.
  • It can handle even the largest cases. GoldFynch scales from small to large, since it’s in the Cloud. So, choose from a range of case sizes (3 GB to 150 GB, and more) and don’t waste money on space you don’t need. Plus, you don’t need to pay to ‘unlock’ premium features. You’ll have the full power of GoldFynch even with a starter case.
  • It takes just minutes to get going. It runs in the Cloud, so you use it through your web browser (Google Chrome recommended). No installation. No sales calls or emails. Plus, you get a free, fully-functional trial case (0.5 GB of data and processing cap of 1 GB), without adding a credit card.
  • You get the best technical support. It’s designed, developed and run by the same team. So, the technical support isn’t outsourced. Which means prompt and reliable service.

Want to find out more?

For more about eDiscovery for small law firms, check out these articles.