Where One Document Ends, Another Always Begins
When you receive a set of scanned documents as part of your discovery, you should be able to visualize how those documents were kept in the original custodian’s desk drawer. You should be able to identify which documents were kept together within a file folder or binder and where one document ends and the next begins. Being able to recognize the order and organization of your discovery means that the documents were properly unitized.
Having properly unitized documents is key to being able to effectively review scanned discovery. You can efficiently move from one document to the next, as well as get a sense of how the documents relate to each other. It is almost impossible to only work with just loose pages, so you should always ask for discovery to be produced to you with its proper unitization.
Keep in mind there are two types of unitization:
1. Physical Breaks:
A document can simply be defined by its physical breaks. This includes staples, paper clips, binders, folders, etc. Unitization by physical breaks is usually done at the time of scanning, as the scanning operator is able to see where the breaks exist. If you choose to unitize documents by their physical breaks, no relationships between documents are captured but it will be clear where one document ends and the next begins.
2. Logical Document Determination (LDD):
What is logical about a stack of paper that has sat in somebody’s desk for years you might ask? Whether we want to admit it or not, the way those documents were kept is often a major part of the story a litigation team is trying to tell. A common way to describe documents that are related is to say they are part of a family of documents.
If you know that a spreadsheet was clipped to a memo, even though the memo made no mention of any attached spreadsheet, you have learned a telling piece of information about the relationship between those documents.
If the documents are given to you with a load file, the load file will act as your roadmap. Typically, a production of single page .tiffs that would reflect a huge stack of loose paper if printed are accompanied by a load file that lays out where the document breaks are. If the documents have been logically unitized, the load file will also identify the parent–child attachments.
If the documents are not unitized when you receive them, you may want to contact the source and ask them for a untized set. If the source does not have a unitized set, the best option is typically to contact a litigation vendor who is familiar with the process of unitization. They usually have teams of people trained in using software specifically designed to create document breaks as well as identify document families.