In litigation, the producing party is required to provide responsive documents in an agreed-upon format. A load file organizes a document corpus and associated metadata so that the production can easily be exported and ingested into a separate eDiscovery database.
Load files are the technical instructions which your technologists or your software will use to audit and verify the production is as-promised, as-expected. These files will be used to ingest a set of documents as well as map the corresponding metadata and OCR into an ediscovery/document review platform. This load file and the use of correct production specifications should allow the user to search and filter in a fair and equivalent manner as the adversary.
A standard production export usually will include the following
DAT, CSV, LFP and OPT. Each file each itself be considered a load file, but commonly the technologist will use a combination of the DAT and either the LFP or OPT file upon import.
There Are Two Components Of A Load File
1) DAT (also known as a Concordance load file) or CSV
What is a Concordance load file? A DAT file provides metadata information. In this way, a DAT file could be compared to a packing slip or phone book. This is file type is a common, industry standard way to exchange information of probative value you are obliged to produce and has no burden associated with it when exporting from or ingesting to an eDiscovery tool. A DAT file also enforces that every document has a unique identifier which is usually the bates number.
2) LFP File or OPT (An OPT is also known as an 'opticon' file)
LFP and OPT files are used to package a production in a standard format. Both file types serve the same purpose (essentially interchangeable), but they use slightly different formatting. Typically, both will be included in a standard load file folder package. The OPT or LFP file will help the technologist and eDiscovery tool understand the relationship between documents produced in a structured manner. In other words, the LFP/OPT is an audit log that points to the location of the documents. For example, in the case that documents were produced in single page images, this LFP/OPT file would be paramount to describe the bates numbers where each document begins and ends. Perhaps bates numbers/pages 0-10 could represent the first document, and 11-15 represent the second document.
Why Are Load Files Important?
Load files provide more information than would be available in a standard PST or raw set of documents.
- PST files do not include a record identifier. How do you tell the difference between files with the same title or subject?
- Is the original file name available to you?
- From whom did the file come from?
This may not be as simple as assigning custodianship to equal the "To" or "From" column. There are many cases in which there could be multiple copies of an email in circulation or many recipients in receipt of the same email. Just because you are on the recipient line doesn’t mean it is your copy of the email. Legal interpretations can be made based on facts not present in the underlying native file.
Depending on the case and the scope of the investigation, certain metadata fields may be probative or irrelevant. Which will be something to monitor upon sampling the data and performing early case assessment. When assembling protocols and determining relevant fields, make sure to be aware of application and system metadata fields.
File system metadata are required to use the file on a computer. File size, create date, modified date are examples of fields that could be required by operation on a computer. While sometimes these fields could be null or confusing, they are still guaranteed to exist.
Application metadata - For example a word document tracks work by Jeremy in the author field. This data only makes sense to Microsoft word. Every app doesn’t need an author field. This data may or may not need to be exchanged and may or may not have probative value. Imagine an example in which your firm hired a technical writer to create a legal document and saved this out as a template. Every subsequent document version utilizing this template would contain metadata linking the author to the technical writer. This metadata could be tangential to the facts.
Production of native or image files will be an important cost, budget and risk consideration in your production. These two types of produced documents will result in produced folders within a load file that are typically named the following (although they could be named anything you chose as defined by your esi agreement)
NATIVE - referring to native documents
IMAGE - referring to image documents
TEXT/OCR - referring to either 1) extracted text files or 2) OCR associated with the native files or image files
Content Over Media - Negotiating ESI Agreements
Most important thing is to agree about what information is there. The technical format should be fairly standard and we would consider a part of the duty of technical competence. These obligations need to be understood to the extent that both parties can fulfill production obligations in a reasonable manner. The use of load files and advanced metadata sharing is not only made possible through an eDiscovery tool but also uses wizards to simplify and support the experience. In DWR creating standard format load files is made easy with wizards that walk you through the process and support file loading. Over the last 2 decades, Digital WarRoom has incorporated all the features you need to create and ingest standard load files. To export or ingest a load file, you don’t need to know the underlying technical considerations, but you should understand the tools available to you to meet obligations. Our upcoming Digital WarRoom 10.0 version will also include built-in options to set custom load file delimiters and adjust the naming of each field upon export. Our team is available to support users on load file best practices and help walkthrough feature upgrades.
To take it a step further, Digital WarRoom early case assessment and review functionality provides important analysis, searching and filtering tools to encourage data-driven decisions within your ESI negotiation. We believe that the key of what legal professionals need to know about load files is more a conversation of how to ask for the right data. A standard load file specification document should be kept on hand as a template to ensure that you can easily utilize and view the contents you receive from the opposing party. In 2020, load files are not as complicated anymore and the workflow is not disputed among eDiscovery professionals. Make sure that you ask for the right deliverables, use the wizards, and clear up time to focus on what really matters - the content and context of the data.