Skip to main content

Bates numbering has been a staple process for legal professionals for many years now.

Originally, Bates numbers were affixed to paper documents using a handheld stamping machine created by the Bates Manufacturing Company.

bates stamp

The process was noisy and prone to error: it was easy to miss a page, which then required the stamper to go back and create a special intervening number.

The process was noisy and prone to error: it was easy to miss a page, which then required the stamper to go back and create a special intervening number.

More recently, the Bates stamp was supplanted by word processing methods, using macros, that generated a series of Bates labels that could then be peeled off and stuck to the pages of a document. This method was less noisy but still tedious and error prone.

The fastest and most reliable way to put Bates numbers on documents is to scan the documents and then let a computer handle the task. You need Adobe Acrobat software, which costs between $300 and $420. However, a paralegal will cost you much more, and not do the job as quickly or as reliably.

So, assuming you have Adobe Acrobat (Standard, Professional, or DC versions), you’re ready to go.

How to Add Bates-Numbers Using Adobe Acrobat

First and most important: make a copy of the PDF(s) before you start to do Bates stamping (in other words, always work on a copy of your key files in case you make a mistake).

Next, from the sub-menu on the right side, select as follows: Tools > Pages > Bates Numbering > Add Bates Numbering. You’ll be asked to designate the files or folders that you want to perform the operation on, and then you’ll get a dialog box (shown in the screenshot below) from which you can make several choices, beginning with font style, font size, font color, and placement of the Bates numbers.


Acrobat defaults to an Arial, 8-point, black font. In his excellent book, Typography for Lawyers, Matthew Butterick recommends avoiding Arial because it’s hard to read (the 8-point size is too small). He recommends a 12-point font, preferably something like Franklin Gothic Medium. Choosing a red or orange font ensures that the Bates number will stand out. Those are the choices shown in the screenshot above, in numbers 1, 2, and 3.

After you choose the font and its size and color, you need to specify where you want the Bates number to appear. Most lawyers seem to prefer the lower right-hand side of the page. If that’s your preference, click in the Right Footer Text box (4 above) and then click Insert Bates Number (5), which will cause a small dialog box to pop up, allowing you to choose the number of digits you want your Bates numbers to have.

You will also be allowed to specify the start number, a prefix (such as PL for plaintiff), and a suffix if you like.

Before you click OK, you might want to do one more thing, especially if the PDFs you’re stamping have images or other content in the area where the stamps will go. In that situation, the Bates numbers might not be visible, and that would be bad. To avoid that problem, click on the blue link that says Appearance Options, and you’ll get the following pop-up box:


Select the option checked in the screenshot above. Then click OK, and you’re almost ready. If you like this setting and intend to use it again in the future, you’ll want to save it by clicking Save Settings at the top of the Bates Numbering dialog box and then give the style a name, as shown below.


Click OK to save the setting and then click OK to perform the Bates numbering. The process is pretty quick, even if you have hundreds of pages in the PDF. If you want to preserve the old file, you can save the Bates-stamped version as a new file.

Deleting Bates Numbers
If you made a mistake or later want to remove the Bates numbers, you can reverse the process quickly by selecting Tools > Pages > Bates Numbering > Remove. Caveat: obviously, you can only remove Bates numbers that you’ve added. If you receive documents with Bates numbers put in by someone else, you can’t use this process to eliminate those numbers.

To learn more about using PDFs to streamline your law practice, check out my ABA-published book, Adobe Acrobat in One Hour for Lawyers.

Skip to content