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.