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What is Bates Numbering?

What is Bates Numbering?

Bates numbering is one of the best and quickest ways to index documents. But what is it? And how do you adopt it in your business?

Whether it’s moving files into folders or giving them specific names, most companies have a way of organising documents. However, although some businesses establish a system for this – either their own or a widely recognised method – some leave it up to individual employees, which can lead to files being lost or deleted.

In companies dealing with a multitude of important documents – such as medical and legal businesses – lost files can become a serious issue. For these types of businesses, it’s also important for staff to be able to quickly and easily find not just the correct document, but the correct page in that document. Because of this, most medical and legal businesses employ an established, universally recognised method to index their documents.

That’s where Bates numbering comes in.


What is Bates numbering?

Bates numbering, also known as Bates stamping, is a method of sequentially numbering pages. It’s especially useful for situations involving a large number of documents, such as indexing medical records, business receipts, or in legal preparation. By giving each page a unique reference number, the Bates numbering system makes it easy to reference and retrieve information from a specific page.

The history of Bates numbering

Although consecutive numbering systems had been used previously, the Bates system gained popularity in the late 19th century, following the invention of the Bates Automatic Numbering Machine, or the ‘Bates stamper’. Named after its inventor, Edwin Granville Bates, the stamp featured a rotating wheel of numbers, which moved incrementally every time a page was stamped.

Bates numbering today

Despite its ostensibly archaic roots, the Bates numbering system is still widely used in the field of law, making it easy for documents to be referenced in court. However, rather than using a physical stamp, most of the numbering is now done digitally on PDFs.

The numbers can be added to files manually – using software such as a document management platform – or they can be added by an external document management supplier. The benefit of this digitisation means that attorneys and other professionals can search for a document by its reference number, meaning they can find it in seconds – rather than minutes or hours.

What does Bates numbering look like?

Bates numbers can usually be found at the bottom of a page, similar to a normal page number. However, as well as indicating the specific page of the document or file, this number also reflects the document itself. For example, when looking at the same set of records, page five of one document will have a different Bates number to page five of another document.

Although Bates numbers can be an arbitrary set of figures, they can also be an invaluable way to communicate specific information about different documents. To help you get started with Bates numbering, here’s a closer look at some of the key best practices.


Bates numbering best practices

1. Use the right number of digits

In Bates numbering, the number of digits in a number is often used to indicate how many pages are in a specific document set. For example, if a set has less than 100 pages, you can use a two-digit number – starting from 01. If a set has more than 100 pages (but less than 1000), it will be a three-digit number, starting from 001.

Then, for 1000 pages, it’s a four-digit number, and so on. These numbers will then be combined with prefixes or suffixes to differentiate them from other documents. By numbering pages in this way, anyone viewing the page can see, at a glance, roughly how many pages the document has – even if they’re only looking at that first page.

2. Add extra information

Aside from making it easier to locate and reference information, Bates numbering is also a useful way to communicate information about each specific document, including:

  • Names
  • Dates
  • Case numbers
  • ID numbers
  • The type of document it’s referencing

Not only does this make it easier to find the right document, but it also makes it easier to identify which project or case that document refers to.

The best way to include this information is by adding a prefix or suffix to the number referencing the page. These additions can be numbers or letters, but are usually a mixture of the two. For example, an appellant's reply brief might include the prefix or suffix ‘ARB’. So, if the reply brief was 100 pages long, page one might have a number like ARB001, along with any other relevant dates and names to distinguish it from other projects.

3. Make sure each number is unique

The Bates system is designed to give each page in a large set of records a unique reference number. So, for example, if a set of records included ten types of documents, each with 1000 pages, every one of the total 10,000 pages would have a unique number.

Because the Bates numbering system is usually employed when dealing with hundreds or thousands of pages, it’s incredibly important that each of these numbers is unique. If two or more pages are inadvertently given the same number, it can be difficult to know which document is which. Not only is this confusing, but it can also cause people to miss key pieces of information.

This is often where using a third-party document management supplier comes in handy. With assured quality control and compliance, you can make sure large sets of documents are all correctly numbered – without using your own team’s resources.

4. Keep it consistent

Although there are different ways you can assign numbers with the Bates system, the most important thing is to keep the method consistent. That way, everyone on your team – and any other teams you need to work with – will know exactly how to number the documents, and how to find any specific pages they need to reference.


How we can help your business with Bates numbering

Although incredibly useful, Bates numbering can be a monumental task – especially when you’re dealing with complex projects. Luckily, Shredall SDS Group can do all that indexing for you.

As legal document scanning specialists, we know how important organisation is. That’s why we’re on hand to help digitise, index and number all your business documents, whether it’s hard copies from archived projects or new documents from ongoing work. With full security and compliance assured, you can save your business time and money – all while making it easier for your team to locate the right information when they need it.

Get in touch today to find out how we can help your business.

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