A Guide to Managing Metadata in Today’s Law Firms: An Osterman Research Report
There are millions of lawsuits filed in every year. Each of these lawsuits can generate thousands of documents, many of which contain ‘metadata’ — hidden data that consists of notes or other information within word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, PDF files and other types of content. Metadata is often used for internal purposes as reviewers collaborate on a document. Rarely is metadata intended for an external audience, particularly when that audience is opposing counsel or the public.
However, there have been many instances where metadata has mistakenly been sent along with the original source documents or posted to a website. Inadvertent disclosure exposes law firms to the risk of regulatory breach, embarrassment, lost clients and lawsuits — all of which affect a firm’s bottom line.
Law firms have an ethical and, in many cases, a regulatory, obligation to protect attorney-client privilege by removing metadata from documents presented during discovery or sent outside the firm. This obligation means that law firms must take steps to secure documents that are sent through email, ensure documents are protected from tampering, manage ongoing document security policies and so forth. There are a variety of tools available that can scrub metadata from documents, manage corporate policies, monitor violations and provide other capabilities. There are fewer tools that can help educate users to the dangers of metadata, integrate all of the functions into a cohesive system and provide the legal IT team a central interface to manage metadata across the firm. While point solutions can provide useful functionality for law firms, an integrated solution is less expensive to manage and provides better protection to an ad hoc collection of different vendors’ offerings.
This guide discusses the challenges associated with cleaning metadata from documents and protecting law firms from the inadvertent disclosure of proprietary information. This guide also discusses the key questions decision makers should ask as they develop risk management policies and deploy technologies to protect confidentiality as it pertains to metadata.
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