eDiscovery Bates Numbering Is Evolving. Are You Up-to-Date?

07 February 2021 by UV ediscovery bates

Takeaway: Bates numbering is the traditional way of stamping pages with unique identifying numbers so you can easily refer to content in your productions. But in our digital age, we need to tweak this system by also renaming eDiscovery files to integrate them with Bates numbers. The critical first step, though, is to find eDiscovery software that gives you Bates numbering options.

Bates numbers are a convenient way of identifying specific pages in an eDiscovery production. But are they still relevant in a digital world?

We still use Bates numbers for eDiscovery productions, and that’s quite fascinating. It’s fascinating because this numbering system (and a corresponding ‘numbering machine’) is something that Edwin G Bates invented in the late 1800s. It’s a way of stamping a page with a unique identifier so that it’s easy to refer to it later on. Bates’ original stamping machine would use numbers ranging from 0000 to 9999 and was quickly picked up by courts and law firms because of how simple-but-effective it was. Bates numbers have evolved since then (we now use a range of alphanumeric characters instead of a four-digit code), but are they still relevant?

Bates numbers solve a unique problem: How do you identify pages in a multi-production case?

Say you have a 10,000-page production. Its content will be spread out over documents, scanned images, tables, graphs, etc., so you’ll need a way of referring to individual pages when discussing the case. Simple page numbers would work if there’s just one production. But often, you’ll be working with multiple productions with multiple instances of any given page number. Using a Bates number instead will solve this problem. Each page across all your productions will have a unique number, so there won’t be any duplication. You’ll be able to refer to the 11th page of the 3rd production just by citing its Bates number. Modern Bates numbering-systems are elaborate and flexible enough to handle massive cases with hundreds of thousands of pages. For example, a Bates number format could be CompanyName_ProductionNumber - CompanyName_PageNumber. So a hypothetical company, InGen, would have a page number like InGen_000003-InGen_000300.

The thing is that Bates numbering has a few disadvantages.

It’s not surprising that an analog numbering system falls a bit short in a digital world. Bates numbers were designed for printed pages that would be physically handed over to opposing counsel. But with eDiscovery, you’re often dealing with ‘native’ files for which ‘numbering’ can be quite fluid. For example, if you open a Word document on a new computer that doesn’t have the required fonts, it’ll apply new fonts and a formatting style. And this might change the amount of text on each page, which will alter the page numbers. Similarly, Excel sheets aren’t in a document-style format since each sheet doesn’t always fit on a single page and the pages aren’t necessarily in a particular order. So you’ll have to convert these sorts of files into an image format (TIFF, for example) and stamp those images. Many attorneys do this – and it does work – but can waste a lot of your time and money.

There is a digital alternative, though. And it’s called ‘hashing’.

Since all your eDiscovery files are digital, at the most basic level they are numbers. I.e., a series of zeroes and ones. And numbers can be compared. Hashing is a technique where your software takes in this digital data and uses an algorithm to assign it a ‘hash value’. It happens lightning fast and this number is so specific to its data that it can be considered the file’s fingerprint. And you can give a hash value to anything. For example, the phrase ‘Mary had a little lamb’ gets the hash value e946adb45d4299def2071880d30136d4. But your software can also create hash values for a whole file, a group of files or even an entire hard drive. Once a file has a hash value, you can compare it to other files’ hash values. And if these two ‘fingerprints’ match, you know you’ve got the same file. (Learn more about hashing.)

Unfortunately, hash values can’t do everything a Bates number can.

Hash values are great for identifying files, spotting duplicates, and proving that a document has been tampered with. But they aren’t ideal for referring to production pages at a deposition or trial. We love Bates numbers because they follow a particular order, and they’re permanent. In contrast, hash values aren’t sequential – they’re generated based on the contents of a file, which are random. Also, hash values change if even a single character in the file is altered.

So what’s the solution? One option is to use a file-level Bates numbering system.

The issue with Bates numbers is that they don’t work for files that aren’t structured as sequential pages. So, what if you leave the pages alone and give the file names a Bates number instead? This file-level numbering lets you order your files but stay away from the sticky task of numbering pages. And if you have to print out a page, you can stamp it with a number linking it to your file-level numbering system.

There are many fixes to the Bates problem, but they’re all possible only with the right eDiscovery software.

You’ll find many numbering systems out there, and with most litigation, the parties choose the one that best suits their requirements. But all this is possible only if you have the right eDiscovery software. You’ll want software that automatically adds Bates numbers to your documents but lets you customize those numbers if you want to. Ideally, it should let you also stamp pages with the tags you’ve applied to the document, and it should let you choose where on the page to put these stamps. (Learn more about must-have Bates numbering options.)

Looking for Bates-friendly eDiscovery software? Try GoldFynch.

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

  • It costs just $10 a month for a 1 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 (1 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’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 1 GB plan, you could add and delete 5 GB of data at no extra cost – as long as there’s only 1 GB in your case at any point. And if you do cross 1 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.

Want to learn more about GoldFynch?