The NZ E-Discovery Blog  Facilitating proportionate and efficient e-discovery

Adopting logical document numbering

May 8th, 2013

Something that has puzzled me for many years with discovery exercises is parties that make their document numbering so unnecessarily long.

This was highlighted to me again recently when I was involved in a small matter where the parties used 9 and 10 characters respectively for their document numbering. To illustrate how superfluous this was, Party A had 388 documents and Party B only had 29 documents, but the numbering format was AAA.BBB.0001 and FFF.000001.

“…the only requirement is that there is a unique number to identify each document”.

In any discovery exercise, the only requirement is that there is a unique number to identify each document.

The new discovery rules in New Zealand expect parties to agree a suitable numbering format. In fact it is part of a number of the considerations that parties are expected to agree on when they discuss the practical discovery arrangements.

We are fortunate in New Zealand that the Listing and Exchange Protocol does not go to the lengths of the regimented numbering format that has been adopted in Australia. I know many of the software providers (apart from one software product), would agree with me on some of the difficulties in complying with the ‘default’ Australian numbering format.

But, we have always done it this way !

When I point out as to why these unnecessarily long numbering formats are being used, the response is usually along the lines of “we have always done it this way”.

Many of these numbering formats have derived from paper based origins. These days in a digital world this level of detail in a document numbering format is totally unnecessary.

Like most discovery situations these days there may be a large volume of information initially, but the final discovery set may only be a few hundred documents. It is not compulsory to keep the same number that you used at the outset for you final discovery set. Too often when parties are outsourcing this work, the providers practice may be to allocate numbering at the outset. When it is paper documents the numbering is often assigned on the face of the document – this makes it extremely difficult to change your numbering later in the process.

Document numbering in the courtroom

Those that have used technology in a courtroom have probably experienced first-hand the shortcomings of having long winded document numbering. We often see counsel having to take a breath as they read out the document reference – making sure it was five leading zeros and not six!

Recently I witnessed a Royal Commission of Inquiry in New Zealand where parties had positively adopted technology to present its evidence, which should be saving considerable time in the management of the Inquiry. Unfortunately the full benefits of the technology were somewhat diminished, largely due to the parties using document numbers that sometimes were at least 12 characters long.

These lengths of numbering should only be required if the total documents in evidence was one trillion documents. 10 seconds may not appear a lot, but when there is nothing happening whilst awaiting the document to appear on screen (as there would be with a paper based trial with the document being presented physically to the witness), it can appear like an eternity. 

Prior to undertaking your next discovery exercise, it will be beneficial to liaise with the other party(s) to decide upon an appropriate numbering format for the matter at hand.  


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