SwayLaw Blog

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Best practices for producing spreadsheets during electronic discovery

Spreadsheets are ubiquitous, making them one of the most common document types encountered during electronic discovery. Yet despite this ubiquity, spreadsheets are often mishandled during discovery, leading to absurd results—like producing a 20,000 page TIFF representation of a spreadsheet!—that drive up discovery costs. Here are some thoughts on the how to effectively produce spreadsheets during litigation.

A critical insight is that many spreadsheets were never meant to be printed. (To put it differently, many spreadsheets were never meant to be rendered in a paginated format such as TIFF or PDF.) Even when printing in landscape-mode, spreadsheet columns often do not fit on a letter-size page, resulting in the columns spanning across several printed pages. This spanning essentially renders the spreadsheet unreadable. Even you to try to render the spreadsheet to a larger page size (like 11 inch by 17 inch), often the columns still will not fit. Furthermore, because they are often used as quasi-databases, many spreadsheets contain a lot of rows of data.

If one insists on trying to produce all spreadsheets in TIFF format (or some other paginated format, like PDF), the results can be disastrous. In the past, we have seen productions that contain spreadsheets that are tens of thousands of pages long! A few large spreadsheets can single-handedly double the page count of a production.

Furthermore, no matter what the size of the spreadsheet, converting a spreadsheet to TIFF or PDF obscures an integral component of the document: the formulas underlying the spreadsheet. These formulas may be important to the litigation.

We strongly recommend that litigants agree to produce spreadsheets in native form.

Ideally, spreadsheets whose paginated representation are at or below a certain number of pages—say, 100 pages—should be produced in both native and paginated (TIFF or PDF) format. By producing these more manageable spreadsheets in paginated form too, the litigants get the benefit of having bates-numbered pages for use in depositions and briefs.

For spreadsheets whose paginated representations are greater than 100 pages, the litigants should produce the native spreadsheet and a subset of the paginated representation (in the range of 1 to 100 pages). The pages of the paginated partial representation should be clearly marked with an indication that the representation is incomplete ("PARTIAL: FIRST 100 PAGES of 20,000 PAGES) and the load files should also contain information indicating which documents have partial paginated representations (PARTIAL=TRUE).

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