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A light breeze kept the temperature quite pleasant as I strolled to opposing counsel’s office this late Utah summer afternoon to conduct a document review. Stopping at a crosswalk, I thought about the planning and strategy meeting of last week, wherein we discussed what specific items I needed to look for in the anticipated three to five thousand page document production of opposing counsel and how quickly I could have those detailed items copied and returned to our office for use in a motion currently being drafted. My thoughts were piercingly interrupted by the audible crosswalk sound for the visually impaired at which point I continued on to opposing counsel’s office.

Upon entering the reception area I was asked to take a seat and politely advised someone would be down in a minute to escort me to a conference room where the document review was to take place. Moments later a paralegal colleague appeared who escorted me to the conference room. Upon entering the conference room I noticed several banker’s’ boxes around three walls of the room, with two banker’s boxes on the conference table. Anticipating only one banker’s box, and at most two, it struck me as rather odd for all of these other boxes to be in the conference room.

“Before I could verbalize a question, opposing counsel entered the room; we exchanged greetings; he then uttered those unexpected words: ‘Along these walls you have 75 banker’s boxes of documents, with an additional 16 expandable file folders on the window sills and 203 banker’s boxes shrink-wrapped in our clients’ warehouse. Where would you like for us to have those delivered for your review?’ All I remember saying is, ‘Pardon me, would you please repeat what you just said very slowly?’ It was at this very moment my work life dramatically changed for several months to come.”

The Documents
Over 200,000 documents were contained in the banker’s boxes and expandable file folders that day, not counting the estimated 600,000 documents contained in the 203 shrink-wrapped banker’s boxes and 300,000 documents expected as a result of subpoenas. Some of the 200,000 documents had been placed on CD’s and DVD’s as single-page, non-searchable, tagged-image file format, more commonly known as tif images. A tif image is a picture, which format is used extensively for traditional print graphics.

Complicating matters further, although the documents contained Bates stamp numbers, the documents did not contain a Bates stamp numbering sequence specific to our case. In fact, opposing counsel adamantly stated it would not provide a Bates stamp numbering sequence for these documents specific for use in this case. As it turns out, the majority of these documents were produced in other litigation by opposing counsel and other parties, and contained Bates stamp numbers unique to those cases leaving me with approximately 30 different Bates stamp number sequences to follow.

Considering all of this it was imperative that I remember 18 subpoenas were pending service to various individuals, businesses and government agencies, where I had assigned an additional Bates stamp number sequence specific to each subpoena. Now I was facing almost 50 different Bates stamp number sequences to track.

Having gathered the background information concerning opposing counsel’s documents, documents yet to be produced and the overall size of this project, I needed to form a plan which would allow me to effectively accomplish the enormous tasks associated with handling a large document case.

The Plan
After providing a detailed report and my plan for a solution, to my supervising attorney and subsequently to the firm’s administration, where I was charged with the responsibility of carrying out my all inclusive economical plan which not only accomplishes the firm’s document needs related to this case, but also the firm’s needs in the future, where the majority of all document production would be provided to opposing counsel electronically via the internet.

It was also incumbent on me to keep in mind the firm must not only meet its specific document needs in Salt Lake City, but also the needs of the client located in Pittsburgh, the insurance company located in New York, national counsel whose offices are located in Los Angeles & New York, other counsel in Washington D.C. and a party of interest near Tallahassee, Florida.

Realizing the document production received thus far in this case, combined with the estimated documents on the way, would be virtually impossible to control manually, I knew I would need to steer this project into the world of electronic imaging, a world where the firm possessed short range plans to go within the next couple of years, but had not actually started the steps to get there.

Facing this reality, I immediately sent e-mails to various paralegal colleagues seeking advice; posting requests for advice on paralegal bulletin boards; and participating in paralegal e-group forums. Additionally, I contacted national and local paralegal associations, including the paralegal divisions of various state bar associations. I received an overwhelming response containing excellent thoughts, suggestions and comments. As a result of those responses I began a journey down the path to what I refer to as “software world.”

Software World
Software world is a place where every software vendor has the answer to any and all of your needs, for a price which typically exceeds your budget. Upon arriving I began researching and testing software product after software product. After having researched over ten different software products, I decided the best and most cost effective solution for our needs was the askSam SDK Engine for user network software (www.asksam.com).

Major factors involved in the decision to select the askSam software were: 1) its searchable free form database format, 2) ability to manually code documents, 3) speedy search results over the internet of gigabytes & terabytes of information, 4) ability to search within results, 5) versatility, 6) ability to add customization at any time, 7) price (once you pay for it you own perpetual licensing rights, no additional fees unless you request additional services), 8) unlimited users included in base costs (do not have to pay annual per user license fees or user port fees), 9) accessible anywhere in the world you have an internet connection and 10) customer satisfaction money back guarantee (some minimal exclusions).

Remembering a previous litigation case where I received exceptional coding assistance from Bret Laughlin (bretl@litgroup.net) with the Litigation Document Group an outside coding vendor assisting firms across the United States, who coded our documents (coding which basically consisted of inputting bibliographic and keyword information into the electronic form of the document). I thought it would not only be a cost saving but a great value if, as documents are initially imported into askSam, the askSam program would automatically populate the bibliographic fields and assign master keywords to a document. I began working on a “logic flow” for custom programming by the askSam development department to achieve that goal.

The first “logic flow” project went so well, I began a second “logic flow” project for the sole purpose of automatically assigning categories to certain documents. To achieve this goal, I requested my supervising attorney to provide me with a category name such as “fraud” and fifteen “fraud” category keywords. Using this information, when the documents are initially imported into askSam, the askSam program with a match of any four or more of the fifteen “fraud” category keywords within the document, automatically assigns that document to the “fraud” category. Of course, categories and category keywords may be added, modified or deleted at any time. By implementation of these custom programmed logic flows it drastically reduced and in some cases eliminated coding costs altogether.

As with any project, certain nuisances become apparent and this project was no different. While traveling this path I learned in order for any software to be able to search single-page tif images, those images must first be converted using an OCR method into searchable images so certain software can read them. Once this was accomplished, I learned you have to be concerned about multipage tif images, versus single page tif images, which creates the need for document unitization. At this stage, one very important item I learned was to ensure you have Bates stamp number matching; otherwise your electronic documents will contain one number and the actual tif image of the document another. Incredibly through the invaluable assistance of Boo Bendinger (bbendinger@ikon.com) with IKON Office Solutions, who offers document efficiency solutions throughout the United States, the nuisances were overcome with ease.

Should an enormous document project ever be assigned to you, first and foremost, stay calm, keep your wits about you, and don’t overlook your paralegal colleagues, an invaluable information source. With the information I received from my paralegal colleagues, I not only saved time and steps, but was pointed in the right direction of how to approach the challenge of complex litigation document production and tracking.

This article captures my experiences concerning a large document project assigned to me during the course of my employment. My experiences may not necessarily reflect experiences of others who may have been associated with the project. Notably, each document production project is unique and should be considered with those specifics in mind. I encourage every law firm, attorney and paralegal to seek guidance from colleagues, coding vendors, document solution vendors, software vendors and others regarding the handling of any large document project. This article is not intended nor should it be considered legal advice.

Jim Barber is an accomplished author with articles published in various legal publications and journals. .

[2005-2007] All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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