eDiscovery Production Standards You May Not Yet Know About

18 November 2020 by Anith ediscovery standards productions

Takeaway: eDiscovery productions come in many formats, and some are better than others. Also, there are standards related to filenames, filetypes, resolutions, and archives. To get the most out of your eDiscovery software, learn more about the production standards you should be insisting on.

Handling productions is effortless with modern eDiscovery software.

The best eDiscovery applications make it easy to work with files. It takes just minutes to learn how to upload and review data, redact sensitive information, and produce your files in a range of formats. You’ll even be able to share these productions securely, either directly through your eDiscovery application, or via email.

But even with the best software, you’ll still need to be smart about the production formats you’re okay accepting.

If opposing counsel is able and willing, it’s worth specifying the ideal production format you’re looking for. Here are your options in descending order of usefulness.

Option 1: Native ‘load-file’ productions [Case files in their original format]

Each application you use creates files in a particular ‘format.’ Meaning, it structures the file’s data in a specific way. 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. Native productions preserve important file metadata which would otherwise get wiped when you convert the file to another format. So, the best type of incoming production is a native one. Ideally, you’ll want these natives to come with a load file (i.e., a file that tells your software where to slot the data into its database). But at a pinch, a loose collection of native files without the load file would be okay.

Option 2: PDF ‘load-file’ productions [Case files in an easy-to-transfer format]

To open native files, you’ll need their original applications. For example, you can’t open and edit a Microsoft Word document on a non-Microsoft application. (Or if you can, it’ll be full of glitches.) And even if you do open it, the document may get formatted differently, based on the other computer’s settings. Adobe solved this problem in 1993 by creating the Portable Document Format (PDF). This format was revolutionary because it takes up very little space, can be used for free (download Adobe Reader from their website), stays the same from computer to computer, and has great security settings to keep your data safe. They’re now an industry standard, so if you can’t get a native production, push for a PDF production instead. You won’t get the original file metadata, but that’s okay. A PDF is still relatively easy to work with. Again, you ideally want a load file with the production – but if that’s not an option, just the PDFs will do. But try to insist that these PDFs all represent separate documents. It’s a pain to keep track of files where a bunch of documents are crammed into one PDF.

Option 3: TIFF ‘load-file’ production [Case files in an older version of an easy-to-transfer format]

The Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) was developed in the mid-1980s by the Aldus Corporation. It’s the precursor to the PDF, and was created as a file format to store scanned images. TIFFs are useful but haven’t been updated since 1992. So they’re less secure than PDFs, are lower-resolution files, and have fewer add-on features. Take them only if you can’t get native or PDF productions.

Option 4: [The last resorts] Bulk PDFs, loose collections of TIFFs, paper files

Say you absolutely can’t get any of the earlier formats. Then you’ll have to make do with (1) PDFs that aren’t differentiated into separate documents, (2) Collections of TIFFs without load files, and finally (3) Paper documents. You’ll need to put a lot of work in to get these files eDiscovery-ready, though. So make sure they really are your last resort.

Aside from production formats, there are other standards to consider.

Here are the most common ones.

1. Incoming files should be named as their Bates number

Each produced file should be assigned a single Bates number, and named with that single number (including any prefix). Attachments and child-files should be referred to using the parent file’s Bates name – so they can be tracked along with the parent file. They should not be produced individually, nor assigned their own Bates numbers.

2. All files should be rasterized

If you can’t get a native file, then make sure the files you receive are ‘rasterized.’ The raster format builds images around pixels (as opposed to a vector format, which builds the image based on a mathematical formula). Most images you see on the internet or from digital cameras are raster images, so you’ll be getting a raster if the file is a .BMP, .GIF, .JPEG, .PNG, or .TIFF. [Note: Most PDFs are rasters, but not all of them. PDFs made using Computer Aided Design (CAD) – used by designers, architects and engineers – are often vectors.]

3. Get emails as bulk files

Ideally, you’ll want bulk emails like PST, OST, or MBOX, with each archive file holding a single inbox. And each should have a single Bates number. If you can’t get a whole archive, then individual email files are okay if they are in the near-native MSG or EML (MIME) format. Just make sure each email gets its own Bates number.

4. Sometimes, native files should be the only option you’ll consider.

Audio, video, spreadsheets, documents with ‘track changes’, and CAD drawings really need to be in their native format. Otherwise, you’ll lose too much valuable metadata.

5. Paper documents have standards too.

If you’re accepting paper documents, scan them with a resolution of 300 PPI. (PPI, or pixels per inch, is a measure that tells you how many pixels are printed to fill up a 1-inch line). You’ll want to have each document as a separate PDF and use optical character recognition (OCR) so that the PDF text is ‘searchable’.

6. Load files need to be in specific format

We humans can read a native file or PDF, but computers use behind-the-scenes ‘databases’ to make sense of the data. Load files connect the data we see and the databases computers use. (Learn more about load files.) When receiving a load file, make sure it’s in .DAT, .CSF or .JSON format, and it’s UTF-8 or UTF-16 encoded. (UTF – Unicode Transformation Format – is a standardized format for characters in certain types of documents like HTML, Java, email, etc.)

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when accepting productions. So consider making a productions checklist.

There are some nuances to productions that we haven’t gone into in this post, so for those details, check out this more technical article.

Looking for software that simplifies eDiscovery productions? Try GoldFynch.

It’s an easy-to-use eDiscovery service that’s perfect for small- and midsize law firms and companies.

  • It costs just $27 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s significantly less than most comparable software. With GoldFynch, you know what you’re paying for exactly – its pricing is simple and readily available on the website.
  • It’s easy to budget for. GoldFynch charges only for storage (processing is free). So, choose from a range of plans (3 GB to 150+ GB) and know up front how much you’ll be paying. It takes just a few clicks to move from one plan to another, and billing is prorated – so you’ll pay only for the time you spend on any given plan. With legacy software, pricing is much less predictable.
  • It takes just minutes to get going. GoldFynch 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 trial case (0.5 GB of data and processing cap of 1 GB), without adding a credit card.
  • It’s simple to use. Many eDiscovery applications take hours to master. GoldFynch takes minutes. It handles a lot of complex processing in the background, but what you see is minimal and intuitive. Just drag-and-drop your files into GoldFynch and you’re good to go. Plus, it’s designed, developed, and run by the same team. So you get prompt and reliable tech support.
  • It keeps you flexible. To build a defensible case, you need to be able to add and delete files freely. Many applications charge to process each file you upload, so you’ll be reluctant to let your case organically shrink and grow. And this stifles you. With GoldFynch, you get unlimited processing for free. So, on a 3 GB plan, you could add and delete 5 GB of data at no extra cost – as long as there’s only 3 GB in your case at any point. And if you do cross 3 GB, your plan upgrades automatically and you’ll be charged for only the time spent on each plan. That’s the beauty of prorated pricing.
  • Access it from anywhere. And 24/7. All your files are backed up and secure in the Cloud.