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How Will the Courts React to the Demise of Bates Numbers?

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

How Will the Courts React to the Demise of Bates Numbers?

I was very intrigued by a recent article by Tom O'Connor on the law.com legal technology site titled "Bates Stamps' Days May Be Numbered". Mr. O'Connor astutely points out that current eDiscovery platform vendors, in response to the changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in December of 2006, now enable users to manage native Electronically Stored information (ESI) throughout the entire case lifecycle without every having to convert to an image file (i.e. TIFF or PDF) and adding bates numbers for the purpose of tracking. And, I would suspect that within the next several years these same eDiscovery platforms will be begin to enable the integration, management and open sharing of all responsive and relevant evidence (paper and ESI) not only between opposing parties but also with the courts in a manner that fulfills the requirements of source location, chain of custody, audit/use logs, proof of authenticity, proof that the evidence hasn't been tampered with and a standard digital numbering system that will enable all parties to be able to collaborate and communicate on common pieces of evidence without confusion. This "single source of truth" is probably something akin to the holy grail in concept, probably not that far outside the box from a technical standpoint, but more than likely a real stretch for the courts.

And this last point is the basis for my fascination with Mr. O'Connor's contention that "Bates Stamps Days May be Numbered". I have no doubt that the eDiscovery technologists are close if not already there in regards to retiring Bates Numbers. I just don't see the market and more importantly case law moving fast enough for it happen anytime soon.

As point of reference, following is the full content of Tom O'Connor's article:

One of the most challenging problems facing litigation attorneys is how to work with the massive volume of digital documents produced during the discovery phase of a case.

For years, they have relied on a system of scanning and sequentially numbering individual document pages, extracting the text electronically and producing single-page TIFF files as the standard method. But that process is simply not effective when dealing with terabytes of data.

To address the sheer volume, many vendors are advocating a new way of working with electronic documents that can reduce costs as much as 65 percent by eliminating the need for text extraction and imaging in the processing phase.

Beyond immediate cost savings, this approach also provides cheaper native file production,reducing imaging costs for production sets and saving up to 90 percent of the time needed to process documents. How? By not using Bates numbers on every page.

It also may solve a second problem, because it addresses the preference (under recent federal and state rule changes) for using native files in productions, which cannot be Bates numbered.

Currently, to provide Bates numbering, many vendors generate TIFF images from native files and then Bates number those images. But this process complicates native file review and -- at anywhere from eight to 20 cents per TIFF -- adds considerable cost to the process.

Typically, during processing, data is culled, de-duplicated; metadata and text are extracted; and then a TIFF file is created. An unavoidable consequence is that the relationship of the pages to other pages, or attachments, is broken -- and then must be re-created for the review process.

Page-oriented programs handle this by using a load file to tie everything together from the key of a page number. But most new software use a relational database that stores the data about a document in multiple tables. To load single page TIFFs into a relational database involves a substantial amount of additional and duplicative work in the data load process.

A document-based data model, rather than a page-based approach, eliminates the text extraction and image creation steps from the processing stage and cuts the cost of that process in half. Documents become available in the review platform much faster -- as imaging often accounts for as much as 90 percent of the time to process. This enables early case assessment without any processing, by simply dragging and dropping a native file or a PST straight into the application -- which cannot be achieved with the page-based batch process.

Relational databases allow for one-to-many and many-to-many relationships and support advanced features and functions -- as well as compatibility with external engines for tasks such as de-duping and concept searching.

Applications that support these functions -- such as software from Equivio, Recommind and Vivisimo Inc. -- are all document-based and will not perform in the old page environment.
Programs that use the document model can eliminate batch transfer. This process increases data storage due to the need for data replication in the transfer process and is also prone to a high rate of human error. And elimination of the time that inventory (in this case, electronic data) is stationary will eliminate overall cost as well as reduce production time.

Firms responding to a litigation hold letter can use a tool such as Recommind's Axcelerate to automate first pass review. David Baskin, Recommind's vice president of product management, says this process "improves review accuracy and consistency, which drastically expedites the review process."

"It helps attorneys gain insight into a document collection before review has even begun while insuring that all documents reviewed and the legacy workflow is maintained."
Using the document approach, files can be moved between the first-pass tool and stronger litigation support programs as needs arise, rather than in large batch transfers. This integration creates an easier, faster and more cost-effective e-discovery process.

Another example of this is eCapture from IPRO Tech Inc. It helps users load large sets of documents, files and materials rapidly and in a native workflow, eliminating conversion of native files to TIFF images and extracting the text files.

A modern litigation support program must be able to review native documents that are not just paper equivalents, and directly enable review of any file that is in common use in business today. The future belongs to these new technologies, where native files are processed without the need to convert to TIFF and are identified by their unique hash algorithm.

Attorneys and clients who focus on a document-based system will save time and money and can conduct native file review. In today's world of vast quantities of electronic documents,the days of the Bates stamp are numbered.

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