eDiscovery 101: What’s A Load File


Everyone has taken an inventory at some point in our lives whether it be a reflection of personal stock, what’s in the pantry, or for business purposes.  An inventory or index allows for quick reference to what is on-hand.

In the legal world the need to have an inventory is critical for many different items.  There are continuous flings, due dates, incoming productions, outgoing productions, deposition kits, trial materials, etc.  Technology has greatly assisted the legal community with digital methods of tracking, storing, and retrieving these items to keep everyone in the loop.

Some of us may even remember searching for hard copy pleadings by referencing the “pleadings index”.   This was the paper index of all filed documents for a particular matter. Others may remember the discovery index that would provide high level information for a particular range of bates stamped documents (i.e. Invoices located in ABC-Invoices-000001).  However, the indices were missing one thing: the actual records!

Load files are the “new” index of a collection or a production within the legal industry.  These digital files accompany the discovery material that is being transported between parties during a production.

Knowing what you have in your possession is the essence of an index and a load file.  Additionally, the load file contains pointers or links to the actual records that are associated with this file.  Having this inventory of the discovery material allows one to easily sort and track productions and manage collections from both parties during discovery.

Deconstructing the Load File

The load file is typically broken down into two areas: coding and reference to the actual record.

Note: Some load files still contain a text export for the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of the accompanying records as the original imaging standard, TIFF, did not allow for embedded OCR within the file structure.  Many in the industry have now adopted the PDF for “petrifying” a record or elect to send a copy of the original native file format.  Both of these methods remove the need for a load file to have the OCR.


The coding within the load file is also known as the metadata.  I’ve discussed Metadata in a prior post but it is information physically coded about a record or was extracted from the record.

If records were converted to digital from paper there may be coding related to the physical location, shelf, box, folder, etc for the original file.  Other information such as the bates number (a standard format to uniquely identify a record in discovery), document date, and production number may be included. This load file also provides family relationships and tells the receiving party where one document starts and where it ends, including which attachments belong to which parent documents.

if records were originally in digital format such as correspondence or emails there may be other items extracted directly from the files such as document name, email subject, To, From, and Author to name a few.

File Reference 

One of the major advantages of having an accompanying load file is the ability to link the coding with the actual file.  This feature allows a legal discovery platform such as Cicayda’s Reprise to retrieve the actual record along with the metadata when one is searching or reviewing records.

Industry Standard Formats

Over the years, a few load file formats (DII, DAT, CSV) have become the de facto standards of the industry.  Just a few years ago it was very important to know which format to request as the early discovery platforms could only ingest certain formats.  This issue isn’t as widespread as before though there are still some legacy platforms in use.

Each of the three de facto standards have their own structure that identifies the various pieces of metadata and file reference. The easiest of these to review and edit is the Comma Separated Values (CSV) format as it can be opened directly within applications such as Microsoft Excel.

Opening a CSV as a spreadsheet will allow you to see the columns of metadata and a header row identifying what each column represents


Things to Remember

Load files are great because they contain pertinent information about their associated records.  However, if you are the one producing discovery be sure to know what you are sending in the load file to opposing counsel.  Not all metadata should be sent in an accompanying load file when exporting a production.

There are some metadata fields that are nowadays viewed as industry standard items such as DocDate, BegDoc (Bates Start), EndDoc (Bates End), To, From, Subject, etc.  Regardless of the “industry standard”, one should be cognizant of the load file export due to possible privileged or work product information that may have been added during a review versus a metadata extraction.

Proper analysis of your client’s discovery and a full understanding of the matter will provide insights for your pre-trial negations regarding discovery; specifically what type of documents and data you need to request and the negotiated metadata fields both parties should provide.  If you are within an existing matter, always refer back to your discovery PTO regarding ESI productions before exporting load file data.

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