2021viii10, Tuesday: When 1≠1.

A judge makes the point I’ve been dying for someone to make about bundle page numbering: make the numbers match. Or suffer the (cost) consequences.

Thank goodness.

There are many bundling crimes which we’ve now become tediously used to since, in March last year, the world caught up with those of us at the Bar who’d already gone paperless.

Now a judge in Manchester – may he be blessed! – has tackled one of the more aggravating ones head on.

It’s page numbering. Yes, I know. Boring. Pernickety. The usual head-of-pin barrister small-mindedness.

If you think this, you’re wrong. Ask yourself how many hearings you’ve been through uttering the litany: “That’s page 47 on paper, my Lady, but page 54 in the PDF.” And waiting while someone, unerringly but understandably, goes to the wrong page. Over. And over. Again.

Thing is, it isn’t hard to get the numbering to match up. As long as there aren’t any last-minute additions, in fact it’s child’s play. In Adobe Acrobat, you can easily make (say) the index pages – and yes, the biggest single crime is forgetting to number the index pages as i-ii-iii, kicking off the actual substantive bundle at page 1. (Open the page thumbnails sidebar down the left hand side of the main window. Click on the menu icon just below the words “Page thumbnails”. Choose “Page labels…”. Pick your page range, select roman instead of arabic numerals, and you’re done.)

In PDF Expert, that isn’t an option – but instead, why not simply start page 1 with the first page of the index, instead of having it in a separate document? (On which subject: separate indexes are the spawn of Satan themselves. One document, please. Including the index. Just the one.)

I won’t go into online bundling services, but frankly if they don’t do this already, they should do. Pronto. (I’ve come to love Casedo, but its page number doesn’t have the option to include its own self-generated table of contents. It really should.)

Even adding pages isn’t too hard (eg “280a, 280b” etc). At least in Acrobat – you can do exactly the same thing. Add the extra pages. Then choose them in the range. Make the starting page the prefix (so “280” in this example). Choose “a, b, c…” from the dropdown. Away you go. Done.

So as HHJ Pearce says in Hodgson v Creation Consumer Finance Ltd, there really isn’t any excuse. The courts – from the Supreme Court down – have said for some time in guidance that this is how they want pagination to work. 

And yet I can’t offhand remember a single bundle I’ve been sent by an opposing party (I do my best to work with my solicitors to get it right) that has complied.

The next time, I might be tempted to take a point on it. Using the following from HHJ Pearce at [14]:

Whilst the Courts may have been willing to tolerate problems early in the COVID-19 pandemic, when solicitors were struggling with new challenges, including a lack of the traditional support from those who might assist with preparing bundles, as well as the sudden need to get to grips with the challenges of preparing electronic bundles in all cases, there has been plenty of opportunity by now to get to grips with those challenges. I repeat that most court users have done. Those who have not must realise that they are likely to be sanctioned for the problems caused by such failures.

Costs argument here I come. And I doubt I’ll be the only one.

I mentioned other electronic bundle crimes. 

The biggest, of course, is the failure to make the text searchable. ReadIris or Acrobat will usually solve that, but not always.

A close second is the delivery of documents in multiple emails, with further nested emails, instead of in a single PDF bundle: I’ve now taken to including time for putting that together into my fee estimates. 

There are myriad others. But honestly: as HHJ Pearce says, we’ve been at this a while now. If a single paper bundle was doable in the past, a single properly-prepared PDF bundle should be doable now. I don’t really think, for professional court users, that there are any excuses left.

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2021ii5, Friday: Malleable memory.

The litigation process causes witness inaccuracy – and the courts are recognising that. Also: a wonderful hymn to the joy of errors. And why stories can help fight corruption.

Short thought: Job one, when you’re a barrister, is to read the papers. 

In olden times – that is, a year ago – these would normally arrive in fat bundles. Possibly, even today, tied up in pink tape. (Ah, the nostalgia.) Nowadays it’s PDFs. Already put together if you’re lucky. Buried in dozens of nested emails if you’re not. (The fact that I’ve written about this three times in the past six months shows how painful this is.)

But however they come, knowing the papers, inside out, is critical.

In commercial litigation this is if anything more important. The reason? Over the past decade or so, judges in the English commercial courts have recognised the fundamental problems with oral witness evidence, long considered the gold standard and backbone of any trial. 

The first really stalwart example of a judge making it clear that documents, not people, were what they would primarily rely on was the case of Gestmin v Credit Suisse [2013] EWHC 3560 (Comm), in which Leggatt J (now Lord Leggatt JSC) made clear at [15]-[22] his awareness that memory is fallible, that the process of civil litigation itself risked making it still more fallible, and that the mechanics of memory formation itself meant relying on witness recollection except as a means of scrutinising the documents in the case was usually a futile exercise.

There’s been push and pull about Leggatt J’s points ever since. But at their heart they stand up. They reflect, among other things, the growing and spreading knowledge of how cognitive biases function (warning: that link is a rabbit hole from which you may not emerge), and the fact that memory is a construct, not a recording. 

The Courts’ recognition of this, at least in commercial litigation, is now official. Enshrined in a new practice direction (PD57AC for those keeping score – starting at p64 of the linked PDF), are rules about witness statements at trial which seek to mitigate the adverse effects of the litigation process and improve the odds of witness evidence actually being useful. The explicit recognition of what one might call the Gestmin principle is at para 1.3 of the appendix, at page 69 in the PDF I linked to:

Witnesses of fact and those assisting them to provide a trial witness statement should understand that when assessing witness evidence the approach of the court is that human memory:

(1) is not a simple mental record of a witnessed event that is fixed at the time of the experience and fades over time, but

(2) is a fluid and malleable state of perception concerning an individual’s past experiences, and therefore

(3) is vulnerable to being altered by a range of influences, such that the individual may or may not be conscious of the alteration.

The other reason for the PD (and this was made clear on a enlightening webinar by the Leeds BPC Forum earlier this week addressed by Andrew Baker J) is the burgeoning use of witness evidence to make arguments. Judges are getting more and more annoyed by this – one can do little better than look at the many, many posts on Gordon Exall’s Civil Litigation Brief (this is just the latest) on this subject for excellent examples. 

Either way, though, the message is clear. Know your papers. Make them tell the story you need to tell, and use witnesses carefully to buttress that story. Because if you don’t, the other side definitely will.

Someone is right on the internet: Speaking with the experience that comes from being the parent of a 14-year-old, her generation seem to have a harder time with perfectionism than mine ever did. I don’t know why, but I suspect the welter of examples, spread across countless media, of people who seem effortlessly to succeed – with all the hard work in the background neatly occluded – may have something to do with it. The fact that Gen Z simply, frankly, has it harder than we do, with narrower pathways to success and far greater consequences for screwups along the way, is probably also relevant.

Even so, I remain a true believer in the principle that to be good at anything, you have to be OK with being bad at it for a while as you try to improve. And that it’s OK – no, it’s critical – to be OK with getting it wrong. So long as you only get it wrong the same way once. I remember interviewing someone for a job once who surprised me at the “do you have any questions for me?” stage by asking how I’d deal with her making a mistake, which sparked a great discussion about the importance of assessing people by how they correct and learn from errors, rather than by the errors themselves. A reallybrave question, but in fact an excellent one – one which made sure she got onto the final shortlist. 

So this piece by David Duchovny (yes, that David Duchovny) struck a chord. Starting with a Beckett quote – “Fail again. Fail better” – he weaves a hymn to the importance, and sometimes even the joy, of screwing it up and trying over. Or, as Fred and Ginger put it, “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.” He also used a word I’ve never seen before, but am now in love with: hamartia, which he describes as the “near miss” that delivers an electric energy driving the next attempt. (Dictionaries give a darker meaning: the tragic flaw in a hero that triggers their downfall. But Duchovny’s sentiment, if not his usage, is bang on.)

Seriously, it’s a great read. (Sorry, paywall again, but The Atlantic’s is metered so you should be able to take a look.) And I can’t sing this song often enough. 

Thing I wrote: In less plague-ridden times, Fiona Horlick QC – a fantastic advocate and a genius at health and safety and disciplinary law – is my roommate at Chambers. 

(Barristers’ chambers are usually, although not always, set out in individual rooms rather than open-plan spaces. Our work doesn’t lend itself to the disruption and lack of privacy of open-plan. But often those rooms are shared with one or two others – which both cuts the cost and makes for a pleasant collegiality. Alex Haines, one of only a handful of lawyers who are genuine experts in the law of international organisations like the IMF or the international development banks, is in our room too.)

For the moment, of course, we’re physically far-flung. But we’re still working together. And Fiona and I put together a piece for the Government’s Public Sector Counter-Fraud Journal (link to the whole thing in PDF; we’re on page 5) on how the stories people tell themselves can encourage corruption – and how we can use those stories to quell it or find it as well. My past life as a reporter means that perhaps I look too much for narrative in my work as a barrister, but finding the right story can be a hugely important tool (a bit like finding the right analogy – see the last chunk of this piece). And understanding how the stories which people tell themselves can influence their actions is important for this, too.

Thing I said: My friend Daniel Barnett, who’s been mentioned in these annals before, was as upset and (frankly) perplexed by the Times’s assault on employment tribunals and their judges as I was. So he corralled – sorry, persuaded – several employment lawyers to take the Times’s inaccurate claims apart on his YouTube channel. I was one of them. Personnel Today followed us up – thankfully with a pic of someone else, not me. Phew.

Incidentally, judges aren’t the only people who can’t answer back. Think of all the tribunal staff who’ve been working their hardest, amid this nightmare of a pandemic, to keep the show on the road and to keep delivering justice. They don’t have a voice either, but their morale is hit just as badly by inaccurate garbage like this. We’re fortunate to have a voice; as (for barristers) self-employed professionals, speaking up for people is our job. So in this we’re speaking up for them, too.

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2020xii30, Wednesday: Soul food.

Without the sustenance of something we do for our souls – even if we’re bad at it – we lose something vital to being human.

Short thought: Everyone needs a hinterland. Something (or indeed somewhere) they can retreat into: as an escape, or for solace, or simply for the sake of sanity. It feeds a soul which can otherwise wither and die.

My soul food? Music. Always has been. I’m a (poor) piano player, helped somewhat over the past year by my 2019 birthday present to myself: a subscription to a wonderful jazz and improvisation teacher called Willie Myette (his site, Jazzedge, has been a haven).

(And I’m getting better. Very slowly. And re-learning the essential lesson: to get good at anything, you have to accept being pretty bad for a while.)

But honestly, I’ve realised it doesn’t matter what you do. Play something. Write. Build. Make. Walk, or run, or ride, whether with music/podcast/audiobook or in blissful silence. Just something that’s not passive consumption or work. Something that can become a habit of self-nurture.

(I’m not including reading in the above. Because – call me an elitist; please, go ahead – I regard reading long-form things, by which I mean anything long enough to have some structure and thought behind it, as something as fundamental as breathing. Not so much soul food as a basic necessity.)

If the past year of strange days that seem to stretch for weeks, and months that have fled by like days, has taught me anything, it’s that without regular intakes of soul food we lose something critical to being human.

So find your sustenance. Treasure it. Be bad at it for as long as it takes. Your soul will thank you.

Nothing wrong with a re-read: I’ve never understood those who say books aren’t worth reading twice. I love a good series, and there’s something special about re-reading the last one (or, for TV, re-watching it) before getting into something new. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Ruin is on my Kindle maybe-next-up list, and I’ve nearly finished a re-run through its predecessor, Children of Time. It’s awe-inspiring; a consideration of genuinely alien thought and culture in the grand tradition of CJ Cherryh’s Chanur and Foreigner books. (Again with the series…) It doesn’t hurt that its non-human species reminds me of my favourite gaming alien race of all time, Traveller’s Hivers. They were always such fun to play…

Someone is right on the internet: With thanks to Anne Helen Peterson, Anne Applebaum writes about collaborators in The Atlantic. A long read, talking about the US GOP and dealing with the use of strategic and voluminous lies. But worthwhile.

Things I wrote: some time ago I looked at bundling apps for barristers. A good one would be the holy grail. So no surprise there isn’t one. Not yet. I’d favoured one; but now I’m reconsidering. And I’ve committed hard cash too.

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Reconsidering bundling apps.

Recently I tried three, and reluctantly settled on one. After a long chat with the founder of one of the others, I’m thinking again.

Not so long ago, I tried out three apps designed for lawyers to handle paperless bundles: to make them, and use them. As I explained, I don’t need the “use” bit; PDF Expert hits the button for my multi-device workflow in a way that none of these services comes close to achieving. But bundling hurts.

At the time, I selected Hyperlaw and rejected Casedo because the former did three things the latter didn’t: OCR; handling emails with (nested) attachments; and handling multiple document types. (I rejected Bundledocs because it did these things, but with an appalling interface and a shocking price tag.)

I’ve tried. But I just can’t love Hyperlaw. It sucked in documents beautifully. But putting them in order, making sure they’re what and where they need to be, took me forever, through an interface that just makes no sense to me. And that process, given that I had several dozen documents to process, ended up taking almost as long as extracting the emails individually would have done.

So I gave Casedo another whirl, on a new M1 MacBook Pro (which, incidentally, is glorious). I like what it does, and how it does it. OCR I can live without; ReadIris does the job well for me. Most of my docs are Word or PDF anyway, so that’s no great hardship. The nested email thing remains a stopper. But I had a long chat with Ross Birkbeck, Casedo’s founder, and I’m reassured it’s a priority.

So I’m trying Casedo. I’ll have to disentangle nested emails myself for a while, which I loathe. But everything else about bundling is far closer to the holy grail of “it just works”. So they’ve got my cash. We’ll see how it goes.

Can apps or services relieve the burden of bundling?

tl;dr: Not without some pain, and considerable cost if you’re a solo practitioner. But we have a winner. Albeit at the cost of breaking a fundamental rule of British journalism.*

It turns out my blog on nested emails struck a chord. Several cries of pain rang out. Clearly it isn’t just me for whom this is a needless annoyance.

Fortunately, there are a number of web services and apps which take the misery out of bundling. Surely they’ll step in and sort it?

Well… yes. Some of them. But at considerable cost. And with a lot of bells and whistles that I just don’t need.

The ask

I admit it; my requirements are idiosyncratic. So I may not be the target market. But honestly I’m not convinced I’m so far out of the bulls-eye, particularly among the growing number of barristers who are comfortably digital-first, that there isn’t a viable customer base for what I’m after.

Put simply: I don’t want mark-up. I don’t want the ability to add comments, highlights or otherwise mess about with the text. PDF Expert (for me – I recognise Adobe Pro will suit others) is a far better precision tool for that, particularly since it means I can move smoothly from iPad to laptop in native apps without fuss or bother.

So stripped down to the bare essentials, all I want to do is bundle. And in doing so, the app/service/whatever needs to be better at merging PDFs, moving stuff around, adding page numbers or creating hyperlinks than PDF Expert already is. (It’s great at the first three, and not bad at the fourth.)

So in short, I want something that does the following, with minimal fuss:

  1. Sucks in a variety of filetypes. Including, blast them, nested emails.
  2. Puts them together into a single PDF, allowing me to reorder and retitle.
  3. Creates an index page, with each entry linked to the first page of the document it represents, whose format I can define.
  4. Also creates a table of contents (in PDF Expert terms, Outlines), again in the format of my choosing.
  5. Adds page numbers – and yet again allows me to choose how they’re formatted, since different courts have different preferences.
  6. Exports as a PDF with a reasonable file size.

(If it OCRs the lot of it as well, with a file size that’s not stupidly big, then so much the better.)

And that’s it. This really is table stakes. None of these five things (with the exception of number 1) is anything more than what the courts near-universally now require.

The options

There are probably loads. But a quick canvass of colleagues, and a moderate amount of DuckDuckGoing (yeah, I refuse to use “to Google” as a generic verb) brought me to three options: Casedo, Bundledocs and Hyperlaw.

(There were a couple of others; but they were PC-only. So no.)

I tried Casedo first, and was pleased to find it a native app rather than a web service. From a security perspective, I rather like keeping everything in file locations I can control. It’s very good value – about £12.50 a month. And it sucks in documents quickly, and makes organising them a breeze. Its interface is designed with care, and works well.

But… but, but, but. Its limitations are pretty huge. It only takes PDF and Word documents, so no Excel, PowerPoint or even emails without converting them first (and certainly no nested emails). Its OCR takes (I kid you not) 30 seconds a page, and often far longer. Its index page is pretty inflexible. And its page numbering seems only to allow a couple of formats, neither of which comply with the requirements of some of the courts and tribunals before which I appear. (And I’m always sceptical about apps which make my laptop fan scream. It’s not the fastest machine in the world, but it isn’t a slouch.)

So no. I wanted to like it, but no.

On to Bundledocs. Lots of law firms use it. Again, its intake worked well. Its index pages were well-thought-through, and at least to some extent customisable. Its page numbers likewise, although the settings to do so were like some ghastly throwback to Windows Vista. I didn’t get a chance to test its nested email-handling, since that didn’t seem to work on the demo version I was using.

But I loathed the interface. Clunky, clumsy and a poor use of a webservice. Worst of all: they wanted £48 a month. After advertising that your prices start at £15 a month, to slap a sole practitioner like that is just a joke. It’s clear that Bundledocs isn’t interested in us independent barristers. So I’m not interested in them.

Lastly, Hyperlaw, which comes out at £300 a year (£25 a month). I tried it out as part of a chambers-wide trial earlier this year, and wasn’t impressed. I liked its nested-email handling (and other intake), but spent too much time on its markup functions, which I didn’t like at all and which were near-useless for someone who spends a lot of time on an iPad.

So I’ve now given it a do-over, with a focus solely on bundling.

And… it’s pretty good. It sucks in nested emails quite happily, a big win. It appears to OCR stuff reasonably effectively. And it churns out usable bundles with a good deal of customisation of page numbers and tabbing.

I’m not entirely dancing for joy. Its interface, again, is horrible. Wholly unintuitive. It took me forever, even with the manual, to work out how to ensure documents were sorted in date order. Although it does a great job of detecting dates in documents, nine times out of ten it selects the wrong one, requiring one manually to tell it, for each document, which of several dates it’s extracted it should use. Overall, this is an awfully long way from being a pleasure to use.

But it pulled in a whole bunch of documents, of varying types. It OCRed them. It enabled them to be split, ordered and bundled. It created (again, with a certain amount of fiddling) a workable hyperlinked contents page. (Although please, Hyperlaw – if you’ll allow me to use Bates page numbering, as a number of courts require, could you put that on the index as well? Thanks.) And I should be able to design a standard template into which to squirt documents, so that bundles come out as I want them to look.

The outcome

People, we have a winner.

Of course I don’t have my ideal scenario. I’d infinitely prefer something native, rather than a web service. And huge chunks of Hyperlaw are essentially useless to me, and it hurts to be paying for something I have no intention of using.

But is avoiding bundling pain worth £300 a year to me? I think it may be. I haven’t signed up yet. But I’m certainly well on the way to doing so.

That said, I’m sure I’ve missed options. Do tell. I’d like to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Let me know.

(*Footnote to the headline: It’s an old adage in British journalism that if a piece has a headline posing a yes-no question, the answer is almost always “no”. Mostly because if it wasn’t, and the piece was on solid ground, there wouldn’t have been any need to put in the question mark in the first place. It’s a bit like headlines with quote marks in – they mostly mean “we haven’t actually stood up this quote, and it might well be bollocks. But it’s a great top line, and we just want the clicks.” Sorry to have broken the rules there.)

Nested emails: the bane of bundling.

A heartfelt plea from a non-Windows, non-Outlook user: sending a string of emails, containing other emails, containing attachments, is a huge timesuck. Think how much advice I could’ve given in the time I spent disentangling it…

I’ll keep this short. Sending Counsel nested emails is a waste of your client’s money.

What do I mean by “nested emails”? They’re the Mac-using barrister’s bane. Emails containing not only file attachments, in multiple formats, but other emails. And those emails have attachments, and yet more emails. And so on, in a babushka-doll spiral of frustration.

If you use a PC, and live out of Outlook, then this is a pain. Open each email. Save its contents. Then open each of the new emails as well; save theirs. And so on. Tedious, but manageable.

But if you use a Mac, the story’s different. Even in Outlook or Mail, not all the attached emails open properly. Saving them other than as PDFs can be problematic. And if – like me – you’ve found other email tools (in my case Spark) to offer advantages you can’t live without, then you’re stuffed. Back to Outlook. Just for that.

Honestly, by the time I’ve extracted everything, saved it all as PDFs (so I can see it all in one place and mark it up) and packaged it together, that’s anything up to an hour. And if we’ve agreed five hours for advice… well, do the maths.

In practice, of course, this time isn’t chargeable. I just suck it up. But if time is money, losing it to something like this leaves a bitter taste.

So what’s the answer? Absent a tacit agreement to bury nested emails in a deep, dark hole – not, of course, going to happen – swear quietly and just get on with it? Probably. Although be aware that since this is a pain point, every client who doesn’t deliver papers this way is automatically on my Angel list.

Or perhaps someone’s come up with tools to cope? That’s for next time.

The Queen’s Bench gets it right on bundles.

OK, I would say that, because the QBD requirements are pretty similar to what I’d advocate. Nonetheless, this is the shortest, clearest exposition I’ve seen. I’d go with it.

The torrent of official and quasi-official advice emanating from the judiciary about how the legal system can run through these strange times has ebbed somewhat. Probably much to everyone’s relief. And law firms and chambers are putting out useful guides to remote working. Too numerous to link to, but much of it excellent.

The slackening means it’s possible to pay proper attention to something special. And I think the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court has produced something that warrants that description. It’s only three pages long, and the gold is on page three: the most succinct and sensible description of how an electronic bundle should be put together that I’ve yet seen.

Which isn’t to say everyone else’s advice isn’t great. It’s just that this is really, really short, and hits the nail squarely on the head.

It’s so short, in fact, that the best thing I can do is repeat it. While also encouraging you to read the rest. Admittedly it’s only directly critical for those working in the QBD, and the bundle requirements are specifically for the QB Masters. But as with much of the other division- or court-specific advice, much of it is transferable.

So what does it say about how a bundle should be prepared? These are direct quotes, with my comments in brackets and italics.

  1. The document must be a single PDF. (The emphasis is the QBD’s, not mine.)
  2. The document must be numbered in ascending order regardless of whether multiple documents have been combined together; the original page numbers of the document will be ignored and just the bundle page number will be referred to. (So it’s crucial to use your PDF app’s tools to make sure the bundle numbers stand out from individual document page numbers. I realise I haven’t got to page numbers yet – when I get over an immediate deadline crisis early next week, I promise that’s on the agenda. PDF Expert is really good at doing this.)
  3. Index pages and authorities must be numbered as part of the single PDF document. They are not to be skipped; they are part of the single PDF and must be numbered. (A lot of people like to number index pages separately, perhaps with Roman numerals. The QBD says no. So best to put placeholder index pages in, number the pages in the bundle, fill in the numbering on your index pages in Word or whatever you use, then drop them back in and renumber just those index pages. Again, PDF Expert is great at this.)
  4. The default display view size of all pages must always be 100%.
  5. Texts on all pages must be selectable to facilitate comments and highlights to be imposed on the texts. (So either Adobe or PDFpen, with their built-in OCR, or an extra app like ReadIris, is a must. Unless your solicitor does it for you. It’s such a wonderful feeling when you get a bundle which has already been OCRed that I’ve taken to thanking solicitors who do so personally, and publicly…)
  6. The bookmarks must be labelled indicating what document they are referring to (best to have the same name or title as the actual document) and also display the relevant page numbers. (We’ve covered bookmarking, or Outlining as PDF Expert calls it (keeping bookmarks for the equivalent of Post-its). It’s really important. But remember that some apps, PDF Expert among them, don’t always carry bookmarks across in documents you merge or add later. So do the bookmarking afterwards – or automatically, as with Adobe. I admit it excels there.)
  7. The resolution on the electronic bundle must be reduced to about 200 to 300 dpi to prevent delays whilst scrolling from one page to another. (Not all apps do it terribly well. PDF Expert does it tolerably – look for Reduce File Size on the File menu – but won’t tell you what dpi, instead talking about high, medium or low quality. Medium should cut file size by half or thereabouts and is still usually fine for readability.)
  8. The index page must be hyperlinked to the pages or documents they refer to. (This can be tricky. I’ll get to it, honest. But it’s a great idea – and once you know how to do it, you can start cross-linking bits of your bundle for your own purposes. I know of one silk at Outer Temple who routinely does this and it works marvellously for him.)

All in all, a masterly (sorry) run-down of the key elements of a soft bundle that works for everyone concerned. Just, for heaven’s sake, remember to remove your own annotations (in PDF Expert, this is on the Edit menu) before sending it out…

Surviving without sticky notes

I’m not saying it’s unheard of. But it’s vanishingly rare to find a barrister who works on paper and who doesn’t festoon her bundle with sticky notes – whether purpose-made and translucent, or torn-up Post-Its. Combined with cardboard tabs to create sections, it works. But in a paperless world, what are we to do?

Everyone does it.

When faced with a paper bundle hundreds of pages long – still worse, several – it’s tempting to sigh in despair. How can one possibly navigate it? Find what one’s after? And most importantly, do so quick enough not to annoy the tribunal – or look impossibly incompetent in the process?

The two time-honoured techniques are the cardboard tab and the sticky note. Cardboard tabs separate one document from another. Sticky notes take you to the exact page you need – sometimes the exact paragraph. (If you’re the kind of person who carefully places them in alignment with said paragraph, rather than in a kind of OCD march down the side of the page. Guilty as charged on the latter front, incidentally.)

It works. Aside from anything else, once you’ve been through a bundle a few times, the physicality of the locations starts to sink in. You recognise, almost subconsciously, which tab, which sticky note, is which, from their position. And so you find your way – smoothly and professionally.

I don’t have a solution to the loss, in our new paperless world, of the physical cue. That simply doesn’t exist, and it’s a shame. But it’s a burden we’ve simply got to bear, I’m afraid.

That aside, though, there are perfectly workable alternatives to tabs and Post-Its. PDF Expert’s handling of annotations, in fact, makes this simple. Firstly, it allows you to create an Outline – essentially a table of contents. Secondly, it allows you to bookmark individual pages. And thirdly, whenever you highlight something or write a text note in the margin, it lists ALL these annotations. And lets you search the list.

It also allows you to export the annotations. Imagine that. You’ve marked up an authority with highlights, written yourself a few marginalia to guide your thinking – and then you email yourself just the extracts you’ve highlighted and the notes you’ve written, so you can easily cut-and-paste them into an advice or a skeleton. Perfect.

All these are visible on the Mac through either the View menu (third section down, after “Split View”) or through clicking the button just to the right of the traffic-light buttons in the top left of every window. The one that – unsurprisingly – looks like a sidebar. Which is exactly what it opens, with four buttons at the top allowing you to show (from left to right) bookmarks, outlines, annotations, or just thumbnails of all the pages. (Similarly, on an iPad, you hit the top-right button which looks like the spread pages of a book.)

So when you’ve put your bundle together (caveat – while bookmarks and annotations survive a merge just fine, outlines don’t – so do this after you’ve done the merge):

  • show the Outline sidebar;
  • Go to the first page of a document within the bundle;
  • Click “+ Add Item”, typing in the name of the document (or an abbreviation you’ll actually recognise – I normally include the date for easy reference);
  • Repeat till you’re done.

You can now easily skip to any individual piece of evidence. Note that you can indent outlines, for instance if you have a big document with multiple parts.

As you read through, you’ll find important pages. Highlight them (select the text, then you can do any number of things – choose “Highlight” from the “Annotate” menu, right-click and choose a colour, use a keyboard shortcut – pick your preferred method and stick to it. And when you’d normally add a sticky note, hover your mouse in the top right hand corner of the page – and you’ll see a little blue “bookmark” placeholder. Click that, and a red bookmark will appear – and even if it’s not open, the Bookmark sidebar will pop into view, with a fresh new bookmark for you to name.

So there you go. Highlight, and find all your highlights in an easy-to-search list. Go straight to a particular document via the Outlines. And skip to a particular page or issue you Bookmarked earlier.

Job done. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’re accustomed you’ll be sauntering through bundles as quickly as you used to. If not more so.

(In the spirit of fairness, I should acknowledge that other apps do some or all of this – just in different ways. Adobe Pro, for instance, combines bookmarks and table of contents into a single list. Some people far prefer that – which is fine. Personally, I don’t. The point being: this isn’t about what’s right or wrong. This is about what works for you – what gets out of your way and helps you do the job. Find a system, and stick to it.)

Bundles. Blasted bundles.

As I may have mentioned, I can’t say I’m upset at the demise (at least for the moment) of the paper bundle, and the normalisation of delivering a soft one. But what if you’re instead faced with all kinds of disparate files, and you’re the one who needs to sort it?

I’ll try to keep this quick. I’m going to assume that you know how to turn documents into PDFs (because we already covered that). And that you’ve got them all sitting named in some kind of sensible order in a folder somewhere that you want to combine. And – the big one – that you’re using PDF Expert.

Because if you are, putting the documents together for yourself or the Court is child’s play.

The easiest way is this:

  1. Open PDF Expert.
  2. Choose “Merge Files…” from the File menu at the top of the screen.
  3. Navigate to whichever folder you’ve got your stuff in.
  4. Hold down the Command key (the one immediately next to the Space bar, with the funny little four-leaf clover symbol on it) and click once on each file you want to join together into your bundle. (NB: this is where it’s critical to have your files in a sensible naming scheme, because Merge will combine them in alphabetical order.)
  5. Click the “Merge” button.
  6. Choose “Save As…” from the File menu to save the new, combined file somewhere sensible.
  7. And you’re good.

There are other ways of doing this – dragging and dropping, for instance – but this is the easiest way to start.

What if you need to add something later? Well, you could do this again – but remember the alphabetical order point. Your new file might have the wrong name. Sure, rename it if you like. But there’s an alternative:

  1. In your open PDF document, click the Thumbnails button on your toolbar: it’s the one that looks like a 2×2 grid of little squares. You’ll see little versions of all the pages in that open document.
  2. On the toolbar you’ll see an option labelled “Append file”. It’s the second one from the left. Click it.
  3. Now choose the file you want to add to the end of your bundle, and click “Add”.
  4. And that’s it. Save, and you’re good. (And click “Close” to get back to looking at the pages themselves. Don’t forget that.)

I recognise this isn’t everything you need to do. You’ll need a table of contents. An index. Page numbers. Highlighting. And some way of replacing all those post-it notes your lever-arch bundles were festooned with.

It’s all doable. More to come. And in the meantime, these two techniques will give you everything in the same place, in the right order. A good start.

A world without lever-arch files?

The idea of surviving without back-breaking bundles of paper fills many barristers with an existential dread. Not me…

I’ve still got a picture of the day my first red-tape-tied bundle arrived. I was grinning like an idiot. I’m sure most of us remember that.

Somehow we get misty-eyed about the rolling suitcases they necessitated as well. About the panic and despair as a wheel breaks at the wrong moment. The frustration as we try to squeeze the second volume of the White Book in alongside the wig tin and blue pad.

And who among us hasn’t wanted to take a sneaky look at how other people tab up their stuff? Whether they have a careful system – or whether the post-it notes are just multi-coloured because their floor in Chambers ran out of the pink ones?

We’re going to have to learn to do without. We were going to have to anyway, given the horrific amount of trees we all murder. But now, working remotely, getting a bundle couriered is going to be a luxury.

Not to mention a potential bug transmission vector…

So the next few posts will probably deal with how to survive and thrive with what some people call “e-bundles”. I loathe the term (the “e-” feels as bad as adding “cyber-” to the front of something. Ouch). I’ll stick to calling it all “the papers”. After all, oldies like me still occasionally call the act of audio recording “taping” something, and even the youthful who’ve never seen a cassette or a VHS know what we’re talking about. I hope they do, anyway.

So over the next couple of days we’ll start looking at