More to Metadata Management than Cleaning

Rather than a laundry list of metadata types to be cleaned, metadata management needs a unified approach to protect all users on all devices.

MS Office documents can be a treasure trove of information--information your law firm in many cases would probably prefer not to expose. Consider the following metadata types in a typical Word document; who created the document; who edited the document; how much time was spent editing the document. Consider also how comments and track changes inadvertently left in a document might assist opposing counsel.

While many will be familiar with these types of application and user-generated metadata, there are many other instances where metadata can be introduced into a document. For example, it is not unusual to copy a portion of an Excel spreadsheet into a Word document. However, what you may not realize is that you are not just copying a part of the spreadsheet but embedding the entire spreadsheet into the document. So, if someone clicks on the embedded spreadsheet, the entire document will be exposed. Another typical problem is with redaction. Some users continue to redact documents by placing black boxes over text, or changing the text to white on a white background. While the text may not be visible on the page, it can be retrieved electronically. Improper redaction in this way by law firms continues to be criticized by judges. Another area where we see more metadata being introduced into documents is through the use of document automation software to generate various legal documents. In many cases, fields added to the document can have hidden metadata associated with them.

Metadata can find its way into a document from many different sources. This is why a metadata cleaning application has always been considered a "must-have" technology for law firms to protect itself against this type of accidental information disclosure. Another important fact to consider is the statement by the courts that an electronic document cannot be separated from its metadata. In other words, if metadata is found in a document, it could be used against you and your client.

The world of email management in 2015 is much more complex. It is no longer just a matter of having emails cleaned when sent from the desktop. There are now significantly more email exit points that need to be managed—desktop, laptop, mobile device, tablet, web access mail as well as the additional problem of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the workplace. Also, law firms need to consider how to clean documents that are not emailed, but uploaded to a collaboration workspace and shared with opposing counsel and others outside the firm. In short, the challenge for law firms is to manage all exit points on all devices in a way that does not disrupt or delay the flow of email, nor does it put the firm at risk.

It is almost 15 years since the first metadata cleaning applications were introduced to the market. While the world and the business landscape have changed significantly since then, the underlying software in these applications has not kept pace with these changes.

The current desktop and server-based models on their own do not address the realities of the modern world of email. For example, a desktop solution cannot clean metadata from emails sent on mobile devices, and routing every email sent from the company through relay servers causes significant bottlenecks and delays. Neither solution on its own is ideal.

It makes sense to have a unified approach to metadata management—one that combines the best of both the desktop and server-based worlds to deliver better, faster, more secure cleaning. For example, in a unified approach all emails sent from the desktop will be cleaned using a desktop application, while emails sent from a mobile device or using Outlook Web Access (OWA) will be cleaned on the server.

A unified approach also allows firms to manage metadata through the enforcement of corporate policies that can be applied to every email leaving the organization for both desktop and mobile users.

Time for a rethink…

Reprinted with permission from the September edition of the Legaltech News 2015 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382 - or visit


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