Your Guide to Bates Numbering

Written by Sharon Miki7 minutes well spent
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Four documents with Bates numbering in the top-left from 000123 to 000126

Working on legal cases means handling lots of documents. Keeping those documents organized, identifiable, and easily retrievable—especially with complex litigation files—is essential, but it’s also a challenging task.

Bates numbering, which is a system of sequentially numbering pages in files, is a well-known solution to this problem in the legal industry. By giving pages unique identifiers, Bates numbering makes it easier for all parties to search and reference legal documents.

Originally a manual stamp (i.e. ink on paper) for paper pages, physical Bates numbering stamps have largely been replaced over time by digital systems that make the process easier, faster, and more efficient.

In the following post, we’ll cover what you need to know about Bates numbering. Learn its history, function, and how you can leverage today’s technology to use Bates numbering more efficiently in your legal practice today.

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Bates numbering: a brief history

The way that people carry out Bates numbering has come a long way from its humble beginnings, though the concept of adding sequential numbers to pages for better organization has remained consistent.

Bates numbering started out with the creation of a useful device. Building on and improving the idea of using a machine to add consecutive numbers to documents, inventor Edwin G. Bates patented the Bates Automatic Numbering Machine in the late 1800s.

Bates’ rubber stamp device automatically changed numbers, sequentially, every time it was pressed down onto a sheet of paper. So, if you stamped “0001” on a page, you would then stamp “0002” on the next page, and so on. This allowed people to easily add consecutive numbers to pages, which made document management and organization easier and more effective.

Today, Bates numbering is still a commonly used and recognized organizational system in the legal industry. However, while some may still use physical Bates stamps, people increasingly have turned to digital options.

Why is Bates numbering important for lawyers?

Effective document organization is critical for any law firm—especially when you’re working with massive volumes of documents. Below are a few of the ways that Bates numbering can help lawyers stay organized and save time.

Bates numbering keeps documents organized

Whether you’re referencing documents internally at your firm or at an external event like a deposition or trial, the ability to quickly and efficiently find the documents you need is critical. The best way to keep documents organized and keep track of your records is to have a system in place.

Consistently adding Bates numbering, usually to the header or footer of each page, as you enter documents into your firm’s system is an excellent way to:

  • Organize documents
  • Make pages and documents easier to find
  • Help ensure that nothing goes missing

Bates numbering keeps parties on the same page (literally!)

Have you ever been at a discovery and found yourself scrambling to locate the right document? Or struggling to explain exactly where you are in a volume of documents to opposing counsel?

Bates numbering creates an easy point of reference for each page in your documents for everyone who handles them. For example, your paralegal or opposing counsel can just search by the Bates number to quickly find a specific page with necessary information, rather than trying to Ctrl-F a specific phrase in a document.

Bates numbering with identifying elements

It’s also important to note that there’s no universal standard for Bates numbering (especially when using digital tools).

The original physical Bates stamp applied a four-digit number to consecutive pages. But many modern digital Bates numbering tools let you create unique identifiers for a document. These identifiers could include things like client names, dates, or case numbers in addition to page numbers.

For example, pages in documents related to Jane Doe’s case could be numbered as “JDOE_00001,” “JDOE_00002,” and so on, for added clarity.

Bates numbering saves time down the line

With many of today’s digital tools, which we’ll discuss more below, you can automatically add Bates numbering to your documents when you enter them into your law firm’s system.

This simple step at the upload point can save you and your firm tons of time down the line. Instead of fumbling to number documents in advance of trial or searching through a mountain of documents, they’ll already be organized and indexed with Bates numbers. Ultimately, this frees up more time to focus on more important tasks, like preparing for trial.

Bates numbering tools

If you’re looking to apply Bates numbering to documents at your law firm, you have plenty of options. From the original physical Bates stamp to useful Clio integrations, here are some Bates numbering tools to consider:

Bates stamp

While it may be old school, using a Bates stamp to manually number paper gets the job done. However, using a physical stamp is tedious, especially if you’ll have to print out digital copies of legal and discovery documents. If you’re not working primarily in print, there are time-saving options on the market that can automate the process.

Adobe

Ready to go beyond using a physical Bates stamp? If you work with PDF files, using Adobe Acrobat’s “Bates numbering function” is a time-saving upgrade. Plus, if your files get too big, Adobe makes it easy to compress your PDF so you can efficiently e-file your court documents.

For even more efficient Bates numbering, look for programs that work together with your firm’s legal document management software.

Working with Clio and their integration partners, for example, saves you time while keeping you organized by ensuring that all of your documents are managed, while also adding Bates numbers automatically.

Here are two solutions that integrate with Clio to make handling documents and Bates numbering easy:

Discovery Genie

Save time and money in litigation with Discovery Genie’s document review and production software and Clio.

When you create a new case in Discovery Genie for a matter in Clio, you can easily upload documents, review them for privilege and substance, and add notes and legal research. Once your review is complete, Discovery Genie will generate Bates-labeled documents. These finished documents (along with privilege logs and complete indexes) are then uploaded right to the relevant Clio document library for the matter.

Bundledocs

Together with Clio, Bundledocs makes it easier to keep multiple documents neat, organized, and ready to share.

The process is simple: Upload a batch of documents directly from Clio (or anywhere your documents are stored), and Bundledocs organizes them into a bundle that’s automatically indexed, numbered, hyperlinked, and bookmarked. You can also use Bundledocs to apply customizable Bates numbering to your documents.

Explore our full app directory to see how these apps and a variety of others can improve your legal workflows.

Final notes on Bates numbering

Staying organized is key to success for lawyers—especially when it comes to documents.

Bates numbering is a great way to keep documents organized, but the old-school stamp is a lot of work. If you aren’t completing Bates numbering digitally, you may be wasting time on time-consuming numbering that could otherwise be automated.

The good news is that there are many great options for automating your practice through Clio—for Bates numbering and other time-consuming tasks.

With a wide variety of options to explore in Clio’s App Directory, you can harness the power of Clio’s integration partners to get a fully customizable experience, as solo attorney Jennifer Nielsen has done.

“Clio understands that one size does not fit all, and where my firm has additional needs that Clio itself doesn’t provide, Clio has very intentionally crafted and nurtured seamless integration with most other products I use,” Jennifer explains. “And as time goes on, Clio has often solved these additional problems through upgrades to the Clio platform itself.”

And, if you’re a personal injury lawyer, Clio has a new suite of features to help you further organize your files, including:

  • Managing medical records with ease
  • Tracking and summarize damages
  • Settlement estimates at your fingertips

Let’s help you remove operational barriers, drive cases forward efficiently, and deliver client-centered experiences with ease. Schedule a demo today to get a tour of Clio’s Personal Injury Add-On.

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