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The Comprehensive Guide to Bates Numbering

by Justin Smith

When it comes to the discovery process, legal teams have to log and comb through thousands upon thousands of documents. Documents can easily get out of order, especially when they’re frequently changing hands, and it can be difficult to know where one document fits in a sea of thousands.

Staying organized and on schedule gives you the best chance to win any case. For attorneys who are balancing competing priorities and timelines, as well as an increasingly complicated ediscovery process, there needs to be a way to keep your documents in line. Unfortunately, that is typically easier said than done.

What Is Bates Numbering?

Bates numbering is seen as a solution to this problem. It’s a method of sequentially numbering pages with an identifier to make them easier to locate and reference. Bates numbering is commonly used in the legal industry for indexing and tracking large volumes of documents, such as with litigation activities like discovery and trial preparation, so everyone from the paralegal to the partner can identify and track documents.

This could be as simple as sequential numbers like “0001” and “0002,” or it can include alphanumeric strings such as “ABC_0001” and “ABC_0002”. It’s also referred to as “Bates stamping”, which comes from its origin before the digital age. The Bates number can often be found at the bottom of the page, similar to a page number.

How Does Bates Numbering Work?

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.

Why Is Bates Numbering Important?

Keeping legal documents organized, identifiable, and easily retrievable—especially with complex litigation files—is essential for law firms, but also challenging. Bates numbering is seen as a solution to this problem in the legal industry. By giving pages unique numeric identifiers, Bates numbering makes it easier for all parties to search and reference legal documents.

This is also useful for saving time, which is literally money in the legal profession. Having a reference number on a document means you can locate it quickly, so you can spend time on more important matters.

Bates Numbering Best Practices

When using Bates numbering, it’s important to follow best practices to ensure that the numbering system is effective and efficient. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Number of Digits

The amount of digits you use within your Bates number indicates how many pages are contained in a specific set of documents. It’s important to have a flexible Bates numbering system to accommodate a wide range of documents, as you won’t always know how many documents you’ll need to produce over the course of an entire discovery process. You don’t want to start with a narrow set of digits that you’ll then have to continually expand throughout discovery.

Unique Numbering

Since Bates numbering is often employed to help keep track of thousands of documents, it’s essential that each number is unique. If two documents are accidentally given the same number, it can waste essential time.

Many ediscovery software platforms provide Bates numbering capability, so you don’t have to worry about inadvertent mistakes. That said, it’s always worth double checking regardless of whether you use this software or not. A starting number issue likely won’t be an isolated incident, forcing you to spend time and money to correct the situation.

Additional Identifying Information

The great thing about Bates numbering is that you can also use it to add identifying information about a certain case, in addition to the unique numbering system. For example, you can include details like case numbers, company names, dates, and more, which helps make it easier to immediately know which case a certain document is referring to, and where it’s located.


While you might not see things like font size, color, and formatting as important when you’re preparing for a case, they can make all the difference when it comes to Bates numbering. Your numbers should be consistent, with all of them in the same font size, type, and color, and located in the same place on the document. This will help anyone be able to identify a certain document, instead of wasting time.

What Are the Different Elements of Bates Numbering?

Bates numbering has several different elements that are important to understand. While different digital tools might provide different identifying elements, the main parts are still the same. These include:

  • Prefix: A prefix is a set of characters that is added to the beginning of the Bates number. This can be used to identify a specific case or document.

  • Bates number: The Bates number is the unique identifier that is assigned to each page.

  • Suffix: A suffix is a set of characters that is added to the end of the Bates number. This can be used to identify a specific document or page.

How to Add Bates Numbering to a PDF

Adding Bates numbers to PDF pages is fairly straightforward. Adobe Acrobat has a Bates numbering function which makes it easy to add Bates numbers to your documents. Here are the steps:

  • Open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat.

  • Click on the “Tools” tab.

  • Click on “Edit PDF”.

  • Click on “More”.

  • Select “Bates Numbering” from the menu.

  • Choose the options you want for the Bates numbering.

  • Click “OK” to apply the Bates numbering to the PDF documents.

How to Add Bates Numbers in Your Ediscovery Review Platform

Although it depends on the type of ediscovery review platform you have, adding Bates numbers to your documents is essential. In Everlaw for example, you can add Bates numbers on upload, during export or production, or during review, however some platforms require you to add Bates numbers at the time of upload.

Once you’ve selected the appropriate documents and uploaded them to your ediscovery platform you can then go about assigning them Bates numbers. This is typically an automated process.

Searching by Bates Numbers

To search according to Bates or control numbers, you can add the Bates/Control search term into your search bar. There are often parameters that you can specify in the search term, which will allow you to get a more specific result. Searching by Bates numbers is useful for pinpointing certain documents, or finding a range of documents that are related to one another.

Reviewing by Bates Numbers

When you review by Bates numbers, you’re able to create an efficient process whereby each document has its own specific identifier, so you can easily coordinate reviews amongst all members of your team. You can specify a certain Bates number set, and have an attorney be able to find and review the documents within that range with ease.

Additional Resources

For legal teams working in the modern digital age, there’s more than just documents to keep track of. Between video calls, text messages, emails, and more, data of all kinds needs to be handled and processed effectively and securely. It also needs to be searchable. Everlaw provides all these capabilities and more in an intuitive ediscovery software platform. You’ll be able to access a range of useful tools, including generative AI, to get to the truth faster.