Trial Attorneys: beware of useless ESI formats

I recently had opposing counsel make a tempting offer: “Why don’t I just produce our electronically stored information  in the .tiff format, which is what your trial presentation software will use?”

To an attorney looking forward to trial, it might sound like a timesaver.  In practice, though, it would have been a nightmare;  another local attorney had just requested an extension from a court, because they had received 2 million e-mails in the same .tiff format.

.Tiff images  are just images — unlike .pdfs, they don’t typically have searchable text included.  While some large-scale review tools prefer .tiff files, they typically come with a separate “load file” that matches text to the .tiff picture of the document.   But in an average-sized case, the cost of this “convenience”  would have been a stack of unsearchable DVDs full of pictures of e-mail. It would have taken thousands of dollars of  processing to make them searchable.

As a rule of thumb,  attorneys should seek electronic data in the format it is used in business. This probably means it is cheaper for the opposing party to produce, because conversion costs are low.

But more importantly, standard business formats are easier to search and analyze.  Today’s business tools are designed to slice and dice information; they typically use several different programs to interpret information, and therefore tend to use standardized  formats, like  .doc, .pst, and .pdf.

There are a number of cheap or free tools available to interpret standard formats, which can significantly cut your e-discovery costs.  Single-purpose formats like .tiff have their place, but they come with costly limitations.