PDF In-Depth

Bates-Stamping documents the easy way

November 01, 2007

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Whenever I see a set of documents that has been bates-stamped by hand, I cringe. The only place that one should be able to see that kind of thing is in a museum. And, yet amazingly, you can see it any day of the week in a typical law practice. What's so bad about bates-stamping documents by hand?

First, it's mind-numbingly tedious work. Which means that the poor paralegal that has been assigned to do it is probably going to make a mistake. Most importantly, it takes a really long time to do it by hand. Frankly, if I was a corporate client I would add a section to my standard terms of representation stating that I refuse to pay for paralegal time associated with bates-stamping.

Let's say you have 1,000 documents to bates-stamp. I seriously doubt that any paralegal could finish the task in less than 4 hours. It would probably take at least a day, maybe more. But to scan those documents would only take about an hour, maybe two hours if you had a really slow scanner. Once you've scanned the documents it takes about 30 seconds to bates-stamp them using Acrobat 8.0.

Using a computer to bates-stamp ensures that you don't miss any pages. And you can tell Acrobat to shrink the borders of the page and apply the bates-stamp in the resulting white area. This guarantees that the bates-number on every page is visible. Also you can add text before or after the bates number, (e.g. as "2nd Production - No. 000345"). Finally, if you realize you made a mistake and included some pages that should not have been bates-stamped, you can remove the bates-stamping and start over.

So all you have to do is scan the documents first. And this is a good thing. Because, as an added bonus, you have not only bates-stamped your documents, but now you have them in digital form. Then if you want to make the documents searchable (and, trust me, you want to do this) you can OCR them first. Let me emphasize this point: OCR before you bates-stamp the documents. Otherwise, for reasons I won't get into, you won't be able to OCR the documents later (but, as I said, you can remove the bates-stamping, OCR, and then bates again).

In short, there's a smart way to bates-stamp documents, and a really stupid way. Why anyone would want to make someone bates-stamp documents by hand is beyond me. Frankly, I think it should be considered a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Apparently, though, it's not all that unusual.

And that is really sad.

This piece originally appeared on PDFforLawyers.com, and has been reproduced with permission.

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