The Hall of Forgotten Discovery Horrors

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Stuck in front of a screen late at night, flipping through a seemingly endless stream of documents for review, knowing that missing the slightest detail can break a case — a legal practitioner’s job can certainly be terrifying. However, imagine, if you will, a time when these thousands of documents were, well, physical documents that took up entire buildings or floors that were completely devoid of people and absolutely silent except for the hum of an air conditioner and the rustle of paper. Within those musty halls lurked all kinds of frights that younger legal practitioners have been mercifully spared. 

Today we take a look back at the horrors that once existed in the legal profession.

Bates stamp

An actual Bates stamp
via Wikipedia

Bates numbers — aka the Bates stamp — used to be exactly that: a stamp. Bates stamps were the pinnacle of innovation when they were the 1890s. They saved law clerks time by automatically advancing the number on the stamp, eliminating the need to do so manually (they also maxed out at four digits). 

The problem is that these physical stamps (or their modern “upgrade,” stick-on labels) were still being used 100 years later when the concept of a page or document was less clear. Putting a number on every page doesn’t work in, for example, spreadsheets. 

Even when the numbering system finally made the leap onto computers, it was an unnecessarily manual process to add the number to the document.

Luckily, DISCO automatically adds Bates numbers to each document.

Redwelds, Bankers Boxes, and document storage

Several rows of person-high stacks of Bankers Boxes

Let’s go back to that idea that documents = paper. One Discovian who lived through the paper era told us of her second day of a new collections job, when she showed up at the offices of a large company involved in a major litigation case. She walked into an entire office floor of cubicles, each stacked to the brim with Bankers Boxes — each of which holds about 2,000 sheets of paper. (Another Discovian reported that their firm estimated data volume by reporting how many train cars the Bankers Boxes would fill for each case — it’s about 10 million pages per train car, if anyone was wondering). 

The problem with Bankers Boxes, Redwelds, and the like is that there’s little organization or labeling — just documents thrown in. She had to go through and put slip sheets (colored pieces of paper) between each section and manually write who, when, and where each document was collected before doing a manual scan of the documents. It took six months to get each file scanned. 

Keep in mind this work is being done at the most dreary places in an office: floors with no people, only paper, or stifling conference rooms. But moving the boxes is a whole other set of problems. Which ones will you take? If you send a Redweld to another lawyer, will they mess up your organization? What if important documents are lost during the move? 

However, these problems are rainbows and kittens compared to having to go to document storage, which are just more boxes in bleaker locations. And — bad news — storage warehouses can burn down

Compare this to storing your data in DISCO, which retains file organization and structure and where you can easily pull up exhibit sets without literally hunting around. Plus, you can work collaboratively within DISCO without postage fees or worrying about losing documents. And, best of all, DISCO Vault allows you to meet retention requirements for a reduced fee (and no risk of having your data go up in smoke). Just think of all the office real estate you can reclaim. 

Hard disks of upgrades

a black hard disk
via Wikipedia

Annoyed when your computer takes 30 minutes to install updates? It may be hard to believe, but those automatic updates are an elder lawyer’s dream. 

First of all, updating your software used to mean shelling out cash for the next version (Bug fixes? Nope, you just gotta live with them!). Second, when a new version of software was released — and it could be years between versions — it came in the form of a hard disk or CD that had to be physically mailed (this was long before free two-day shipping was standard). Your computer would then spend hours making various bleeps and whirs and running through MS-DOS script while it installed the new software. 

Oh, and once you successfully installed the software (and manually deleted the old version), it might take up so much space on your computer that all the other applications would run slower. You’re welcome. 

Sadly, many ediscovery platforms still come with software growing pains (we’ve heard tales of providers requiring downtime of 6-8 hours each quarter to update their platform). DISCO, on the other hand, ensures you’re always running the latest and greatest version by releasing updates as they become available, with no disruption in service to users. In fact, we just released our 200th update, shortly after hitting 100 updates in 2018. And most importantly, our product updates don’t cause your computer to make scary noises. 


A black and white photo of a student using a microfiche reader
via Flickr

At first glance, this may look like an extremely rudimentary computer, but the truth is much worse. A microfiche is a tiny sheet of flat film, 105 x 148 mm, that contains pictures of very small text — for example, several pages of a newspaper. A microfiche reader, like the one pictured above, is basically a slightly fancier projector to read the microscopic text. The whir of a microfiche reader still brings back nightmares for many longtime practitioners. 

While the attempt to condense archives in physical size is certainly appreciated, microfiche presented its own set of problems. Finding what you were looking for was painstaking — for example, if you didn’t know exactly which month an article was published, you had to read every page of the section from that year. Not to mention that actually finding the correct text on the page required physically moving the microfiche, which, again, was on such a small scale that every millimeter of movement mattered. 

Ctrl + F was not an option back then since the readers didn’t have, you know, keyboards. And heaven forbid your associate accidentally bumps the table and you have to start over. The shrunken-down text obviously loses quality, and reading microfiche for an extended period causes headaches and eye strain. 

DISCO’s keyword search is looking really good now, right? 


Man on a laptop that says VPN (this one was tough, ok)
via pxhere

Virtual private networks, or VPNs, caused many nightmares for the former lawyers we talked to. While they theoretically provide a secure connection to an on-premise server, in reality, it meant working at a snail’s pace. 

Trying to look at downloaded files through your ediscovery platform? Hope you have time for five minutes per download. Internet connection flutters for a second? Say goodbye to all your work. And, after all that, they might not even be as safe as you think.  

DISCO is hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), which provides a safe and reliable way to access your data — as proven by >99% uptime. We won’t bore you with the details, but if you geek out over data encryption and security certifications, learn more here

Overhead Projector

an overhead projector projecting onto a screen likely in a classroom
via Wikipedia

If you hate PowerPoint now, wait until you find out about overhead projectors. Everything you wanted to display in court had to be printed on a thin, clear sheet of plastic — which is neither eco-friendly nor high-resolution nor easy to keep from sticking together. The projector was never fully in focus, so adjusting it took several minutes while other members of the court drummed their fingers. And, inevitably, the bulb would burn out mid-presentation — hope you brought an extra (and it isn’t defective)! 

Depending on the number of exhibits in a case, paralegals wandering through a courtroom pushing dollies loaded with boxes of transparencies was not an uncommon sight — that is, before they sat next to the projector, hopping up and down to manually change each slide as needed. 

On the positive side, the soothing whir and (literally) warm glow from the projector light provided a nice ambiance for the courtroom — and occasionally lulled the judge to sleep. 

Rumor has it that some courtrooms were still bragging about their top-of-the-line slide projectors as recently as 2011. At least those operating them are able to get in their leg workout for the day. 

Though there are many more artifacts in the ediscovery hall of horrors (backup tapes, carbon copies, and Palm Pilots come to mind) we’ll leave it there to avoid giving you too many nightmares. And, we’re not saying that newer lawyers don’t have challenges of their own, like copy-pasting and bad renderings of Slack messages. However, hopefully this journey will help you appreciate what you have — unless you don’t have DISCO, of course. 

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Erin Russell

Erin Russell is the senior communications manager at DISCO. She has extensive experience covering tech and AI as a journalist and editor, and her bylines include Texas Monthly, Eater, and Austin Business Journal.