Native File Format Increasingly Makes Sense in eDiscovery

Posted by Jeremy Greer | Mon, Jul 20, 2020

Whether you are the requesting or producing party in litigation, it's important to consider the options for production formats. The chosen production format will affect the cost of discovery and in some case, the ease of review of the produced documents.

The 2012 Florida amendments to the rules of civil procedure regarding electronic discovery provide for production in the form "in which it is ordinarily maintained, or in a reasonably useable form." Taken literally, this would suggest that native file format is the natural state of ESI, and the most usable form, in terms of searchability and metadata.

Old habits die hard, and for years many litigation support folks have been converting native documents to alternate formats for e-discovery. As new technologies and affordable tools for e-discovery processing and review become available, the use of native format is more practical and affordable than the old-school methods. Let's compare common options for document productions


What is Native Format? Native File Definition

Native format is the review and production of all file types in the format in which they were created by the source application. What is a native file? Examples of native files include a Microsoft Word document in .docx, an email in .msg or .eml, or even a native PDF. New e-discovery review tools are capable of rendering the native file for review; without requiring the native application.


Benefits of Native Format

New e-discovery tools are able to process content and render it in a viewer; depending on the software, the review attorney may see the document in its native condition, as is the case in Digital WarRoom. Some other tools convert all files to image format. Digital WarRoom leaves you the options to review files as native or you may image all or a subset of your documents at any time. We fully support workflow flexibility and we are the pioneers of keeping documents in native format, which presents several clear benefits. For example:

  • Documents may be reviewed and produced in the format in which they are normally maintained
  • No conversion expense.
  • All file metadata in the collection is retained and available for review
  • Excellent searchability. While OCR/text extraction processes used in conversion to image or PDF can cause data loss or corruption, this risk is eliminated, as text is not changed
  • Native software applications are preferred or even required to view some file formats, such as spreadsheets, which are often impossible to use in converted image or PDF form - (For example: hidden cells in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets)
  • Save time by avoiding large image conversion jobs

Drawbacks of Native Format

Documents in native file format cannot be easily bates stamped. However, new e-discovery tools provide efficient ways to incorporate a Bates number in a file naming convention

Native file formats cannot be easily redacted. When redaction is required, a mixed production approach works well. Any documents requiring redaction are converted to image files at time of document review. The image file can then be redacted in the e-discovery review tool, and the imaged document is produced along with other natives - a mixed production.


Image format

A longtime ediscovery practice has been to convert documents, email, spreadsheets, etc. to an image format (typically TIFF). Original native files are converted to an image or picture of the file, along with separate metadata and extracted text. Extracted text and data are critical for searching. If you are the requesting party, be sure the request specifies extracted text, or you risk receiving image files that are not searchable.


Benefits of Image Format

  • Enables page-level bates numbering
  • Allows you to redact documents

Drawbacks of Image Format

  • Image conversion is typically expensive; why pay to convert 100 percent of collected documents into images, when typically only 15-20 percent will be produced?
  • Image conversion takes time; documents are not immediately available for attorneys to review


PDF or PDF Portfolios

As PDF format has become ubiquitous in business, law firms have taken to converting ESI into PDF format for production. Sometimes they combine hundreds or thousands of documents into one large PDF.


Benefits of PDF Format

  • Almost everyone hs a PDF viewer. Files are easily viewable, not requiring use of the relevant application on your computer
  • Documents can be Bates stamped at the page level
  • Select passages can be redacted with a version of Adobe that has the redaction feature

Drawbacks of PDF File Production:

  • Conversion is expensive and time-consuming; documents are not immediately available for review
  • Reduced search capability: PDF search is limited to key terms and phrases across the document content, and is not field-specific
  • Incomplete metadata: Some metadata fields such as last save, last print, last edit, deletions, and comments often are not captured in the PDF


Reviewing and producing documents as native is becoming an efficient and practical option. Digital WarRoom is specifically for electronic discovery document processing, review and production, and we leave the option open for an all-native production or a mixed production.

Topics: Best Practices