Tools of the Trade – 7-Zip

Zip FilesIn litigation support, we share data with others. In fact, some might say that is the majority of what we do. In almost all instances, we have a fairly standard practice of “zipping up” the data. We have learned over the years that it is a good practice.

In the old days, we first used a program called PKZIP. Some of us then moved on to a program called WinZip. Nowadays, most of us that work in the Microsoft Windows operating system use an open source (free) program called 7-Zip. In fact, many law firms have installed 7-Zip on every computer in the firm so that attorneys, paralegals and secretaries can “zip up” files before sharing them.

Other terms for zipping are “packing” or “archiving”. Technically, by zipping up the files, we are compressing them during the process which causes the file size of the resulting zip file to be somewhat smaller than the total sum of the original file sizes. This can be helpful if you need to e-mail several files as email attachments, but your firm (or the receiving firm) has a maximum attachment size that is causing your emails to bounce.

Have you ever been asked to password protect some files before sharing them? Well, it is very easy to add a password to the zip file as you are creating it. We use this feature often in litigation support. One confusing issue for newbies is that even though the zip file itself is password protected, if you try to view the contents of the zip file, you will be able to view the folder names and file names contained within the zip file. However, if you try to open (extract) any of the files you will then be prompted for the password. This can be misleading. You might want to make sure the folder names and file names do not expose any confidential information.

The default file extension when using 7-Zip is *.7z. I would suggest that you change the file extension to *.zip so that it doesn't confuse the recipient of the file.

Within the 7-Zip program, there are different levels of compression, like Normal, Maximum and Ultra. I used to pick and choose the compression level depending on what I was doing, but over the past few years I just choose Ultra so that I get the smallest file size possible. It does take longer to compress and uncompress using the Ultra setting.

Another feature we use in litigation support is to split the zip file into “parts”. For instance, I instruct my service providers to never create a zip file greater than 1 gigabyte. If they have 4 gigabytes of data to send to me, they might send me one delivery split up into 4 parts which appear to be 4 separate zip files. However, when I unzip the first zip file, it will automatically unzip all of the parts.

I found this really good instructional video that walks through the process of installing and using the 7-Zip software.

If you don't have this software installed yet, you might want to get it installed and do a few practice runs of zipping and unzipping the files. Most non-techies are familiar with unzipping zip files that they receive, but they have never created a zip file of their own. Try it and let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.

See my Fast Tip Friday tutorial to learn how to split a zip archive using 7-Zip.

7-Zip example

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