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Tech Tips

How to Scrub Metadata from Legal Documents: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

By Danielle DavisRoe

Put simply, metadata is information about your files. It’s stored in the file and travels with it. It gets a bad rap and there are plenty of ways to scrub metadata from legal documents before sharing them with clients, the court or opposing counsel.

You don’t need fancy software to scrub metadata from your files, but you need to understand what it is to make informed decisions about how to handle it.

scrub metadata from legal documents

Why Does Metadata Exist?

Metadata exists to make your job easier. Yes, you read that correctly.

In Windows, you can use it to filter and sort documents in File Explorer. Right-click on the column headers in File Explorer to add columns such as author, date created and more.

Some forms of metadata are parts of the document you want to keep but that might be hidden from view.

Common Forms of Metadata

Document Properties

Document properties are most often the culprits of accidental oversharing. Properties include information such as the author, date created, title, and total editing time.

If you draft documents by saving a document you recently drafted as a new document and changing names throughout, you’re likely to get metadata from the original document. If continue to use save as over the years, the metadata could be from dozens of versions ago. (Want a better solution all together? Use templates.)

If you edit documents in paper form, the total editing time is unlikely to reflect the actual amount of time you spent working on the document. That’s ok unless your client notices it doesn’t match their bill and starts asking questions.

Hidden Content

Hidden content includes text that is formatted as hidden text, redlines, headers, footers, and collapsed headings.

It all depends on your Word settings whether you can see the hidden content. That’s where it gets scary: If you can’t see the hidden content, you want to make sure you can or that you scrub it from the document.

Hidden Text. To show hidden text, go into your Word options. Under display on the lefthand side, check the box for hidden text.

Hidden text is marked with a dotted underline.

Redlines. Redlines aren’t normally hidden, but some relatively newer Word settings make it easy to hide them. On the Review ribbon, make sure that the drop-down in the Tracking group is set to All Markup or Simple Markup.

Headers and Footers. Headers and footers aren’t normally hidden either. However, if you double-click on the space between pages or switch to a view other than Print Layout, you won’t see them anymore.

Double-click on the line dividing pages or switch to the Print Layout review from the View ribbon to see your headers and footers.

Collapsed Headings. If you use heading styles to format text, the text under a heading can be “collapsed” by clicking on the triangle next to the heading text. Collapsing a heading hides all of the text between it and the next heading formatted with the same heading style.

Don’t let this scare you away from using heading styles. They make it so much easier to format documents. Learn more about styles here.

How to Scrub Metadata from Word documents

To scrub metadata from a Word document, in the File Menu, go to Info, and click on the Check for Issues button. Then select Check for Issues.

In the Document Inspector dialog box, make sure that every box is checked. You might not want to remove everything it checks for, but you want to be well-informed about what’s in your document.

When you click on Inspect, you will see a list of the types of metadata found in your document.

Before you start clicking Remove All next to each type, stop and think about whether it’s actually information you want to remove.

You probably want to remove Document Properties and Personal Information. But you may not want to remove comments, revisions, versions, headers, footers, and watermarks.

You can always close out of the Document Inspector, review your document, and reinspect the document if you find something you need to remove.

How to Scrub Metadata from PDFs

In Adobe Acrobat, you want to use the Remove Hidden Information button on the Protect toolbar to search for metadata and remove it.

Other PDF programs have similar features, typically found on the security ribbon.

Just like Word, think before you remove things like bookmarks and links — those were probably placed there intentionally and are safe to send with the PDF. Just review them before sharing to ensure you know what’s there.

Want other ways to get more out of the software you use every day?

Check out Affinity Consulting Group’s legal specific software manuals.

About Affinity Consulting Group

Affinity Consulting Group inspires, enables, and empowers legal teams of all sizes to work smarter, from anywhere. The company’s holistic approach incorporates people, process, and technology. Affinity’s passionate, well-connected industry experts work hand in hand with you to help you better understand and optimize your business—from software to growth strategy, and everything in between.

Want to work faster? For in-depth information and instructions on getting the most from Word, order Affinity Consulting Group’s hands-on digital manual “Microsoft Word for Legal Professionals. Individual and site licenses are available for download in the Attorney at Work bookstore.


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Danielle Danielle DavisRoe

Danielle DavisRoe is a senior consultant with Affinity Consulting Group (@affinitylegal). Whether it’s teaching clients a new skill through training, speaking at CLE events, or management consulting, Danielle is 100% focused on making the lives of her clients better. She has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business and a Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

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