What Are Bates Numbers?

Most legal professionals are very familiar with Bates Numbers.  Bates Numbers are a sequential numbering system used in numbering documents in a case.  When law practice was all paper documents, it was fairly easy but still labor intensive.  You simply applied a bates number to every piece of paper in a case.  Today's electronic world has made the bates numbering process a bit more challenging.  

I still remember the days when I spend hours applying bates numbers manually on boxes of paper documents.  Today our technology provides ways to do this electronically.   If you work with PDF files, Adobe Acrobat has this feature built-in where you can electronically endorse PDF documents with a bates number.

So why is it called a "Bates" number anyway?

This numbering system is named after 19th Century inventor Edwin G. Bates who invented a stamping device which applied consecutive numbers.  Each time the machine was pressed down onto a sheet of paper, a rotating wheel was moved incrementally. The original machine described by Bates allowed numbering with a four-digit sequence, ranging from 0000 to 9999. For example, page 852 in a document set would be 0852. Courts and law firms quickly adopted this system.

There are many different methods legal professionals use in Bates numbering electronic evidence.  One of the challenges we have all faced was how to apply a Bates number to media and other files that you can not create an image file to represent it.  In many of these situations, you can create a placeholder which is an image that can be endorsed with a Bates number but points to the actual location of the media or non-imaged file.  For instance, if you have an audio recording, you can include a placeholder image which reflects the file name and location of the actual audio file.  

In addition to Bates numbering from 1 to infinity, you also have the flexibility to add a prefix to your numbers to further organize your data.  For instance, if you have data from ABC Bank, you could add the prefix "ABC" to the Bates number.

I recently had a technically challenged lawyer ask me if every document in a case had a Bates number.  I assured him that if the document was in our database that it did.  A Bates number can provide security to lawyers as they prepare for trial or producing discovery to opposing counsel.  It is vital that we know what we have and what we are using in our cases.  Bates numbers are helpful to us in keeping track of the data.  I can assure you that in my experience as an eDiscovery specialist, the decision on Bates numbering is very important.  It is a plan you must develop in the beginning so that your data is properly organized.  

Craig Ball, who is the absolute guru on eDiscovery, has a very helpful article "C'mon! Bates Numbering Native Production is Easy".   I recommend this article for reading.  He really gets into the nuts and bolts of how to Bates number native files.  

The important thing to remember is that Bates numbering is easy but it takes some good planning on the front end to make it efficient.  


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