E-Case Management: What's in a Bates Label
Bates labeling is more than just slapping numbers on the bottom of a page. It can reflect provenance, production number, and custodian. This can be handy when a witness testifies they "don't recognize" the document or if doubts start being raised as to provenance. And, as always, standardizing bates prefixes within your team is key to proper communication and classification.
Before jumping in, let's talk a little about the elements of a bates label:
BatesPrefix: These are letters and/or words that start a bates label.
BatesBeg: This is the first number in any given document's bates label.
BatesEnd: This is the last number in any given document's bates label.
In practice, this is what it looks like:
A bank statement starts with JPMorganChase000345 and ends with JPMorganChase000361. For this particular document:
Bates Prefix = JPMorganChase
BatesBeg = 345
BatesEnd = 361
In this case, also, the BatesPrefix is a good indicator that JPMorganChase produced the documents. But Bates labeling can be a little more sophisticated than this.
For instance, your own client's documents may have several sources which you may want to keep track of on the document itself.
Let's say that your client, Mandalorian Co., has three locations: Navarro, Tatooine, Mandalore and Gargon. While not always necessary, you may want to keep track on the document itself where the document came from. In that case, you may want to choose Bates Prefixes that provide you with that information. For instance, assume you have documents that come from your client, but from each of the four locations, you could label them as follows:
Manda_Nvro000001 through Manda_Nvro002030
Manda_Tt00001 through Manda_Tt006770
Manda_Mnd0001 through Manda_Mnd000005
Why do this? While questioning a witness, whether in deposition or on the stand, or when arguing a motion that uses one of these documents, your own bates label becomes a hard to refute quick reference for where the document came from. Imagine the Judge asks, "Where did this document come from?" You can look at it and not only say it was produced by your client but where it was collected from. In some cases, you can add a custodian's initials (if that is relevant). You can also add country abbreviations if country of production becomes important (for example, if documents were collected from abroad, especially if privacy and confidentiality laws are more stringent over there).
Bates Labels can also be used to denote provenance of a document. Sometimes, producing parties do not bates label their own productions. What should you do then? As always, bates label them. But what BatesPrefix should you use? Something descriptive.
Assume you receive a production from the US Government, which they in turn received from another entity (i.e. Private Co.). If the Government fails to bates label, you can choose a Bates Prefix that looks something like this:
Not only can you tell who produced the document the case, but where they in turn got it from. Again, when used in motions or during questioning, this may be the key to getting over a "forgetful" witness. For example, an employee at Private Co. may testify they don't know where the document came from. If you are handling hundreds of documents, you may not remember off hand where this one came from. But a glance at a proper Bates Label would allow a questioner to follow up with, "Well, Sir, it says USG_PrvteCo which indicates the Government got it from your company. Do you want to revise your answer?" You would be surprised how many times the answer turns to, "Well, I guess we produced it then. I must have forgotten."
Another way to leverage a Bates Label is to include the date of production, if that is particularly relevant, or the number of the production if there is a sequence and the order of production matters. For instance:
This would indicate the Government produced these pages on 1/20/2020. A date of production may be relevant if similar documents are being produced several times, if the document itself is undated, if you are expecting copies that change ever so slightly over time, or if there was a production dispute and you want to keep track of what was produced before the motion and after. This is not always important, but it may be so this technique is worth keeping in mind.
Finally, even if you only assign a prefix that matches the producing entity, that can be a lifesaver. I once took over a case that was a disorganized mess. There was no production log, no tracking sheet, and no way to match what was received by whom. However, the documents had been bates labeled with descriptive prefixes. From there, we were able to recreate at least a part of the production provenance, which put us on the right track to clean up the client file.
Bates labeling should not be an afterthought. It is a technical tool that can and should be leveraged to further increase organization within cases. Use it wisely.