Panic with Pages, or Deal with Documents

Tom O’Connor authors the cover story for the May 2008 issue of Law Technology News entitled “Defining Documents.” Tom makes the excellent case that litigators in the digital age must move away from a page-centric attitude and focus instead on the whole document.

Paper AirplaneElectronic files do not have pages. Pages only happen when you reduce an electronically stored file to paper. The only reason that Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat offers a page view is because they know you’re eventually going to print the document. Web pages, Excel spreadsheets, and e-mail messages don’t have pages when you view them on your computer screen.

Most lawyers, however, cannot conceive of a document without considering the page count. If you insist on knowing the page count of an e-mail message, then the message must be processed to a TIFF image which is the electronic equivalent of printing the file. Not only is this an unnecessary step, but Tom points out that it’s also expensive and time-consuming.

To shed a little more light on the topic, the editor of Law Technology News, Monica Bay, interviewed Tom on her Law Technology Now podcast (playable online here from the Legal Talk Network). Tom explains that attorneys are “very wed” to the traditional Bates numbers that have managed documents for years in the legal world. The equivalent of a Bates number for electronic files is a hash function which is a unique string of numbers that can be applied to each individual, all-inclusive file. For more information on this concept, visit Ralph Losey’s blog post “The Days of the Bates Stamp are Numbered.”

Tom’s article provides a couple of options for getting around our page-centric thinking, but it mainly comes down to finding a comfort level with reviewing documents in their native format. The default should not be to have the documents automatically printed, or scanned, or processed to TIFF. Instead, we must consider keeping the documents in their native format and being open to new methods for referencing each document, moving away from the Bates stamp.

Tom states it well:

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.

Link to article.