Give Final Documents a Good Scrubbing
You’ve spent hours working on that court filing or contract, getting everyone’s feedback (electronically and otherwise) and polishing your prose. Before you attach that Microsoft Word file to an outgoing email to your client or co-counsel, though, you need to do a full security check. Here’s a list to help ensure you’ve covered your bases and your document is clean.
Is Track Changes turned on?
If you’ve been using Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature to get everyone’s feedback, you need to make sure no edits or snarky comments remain lurking in hidden text. The easiest way to ensure the feature is turned off is to check the Status Bar at the bottom of your screen or the Review tab. If you don’t see something near the center that says “Track Changes Off,” you may not have that alert enabled. Just right-click on the Status Bar, find the Track Changes feature, and click it so a check mark appears by it. From now on, you can toggle Track Changes on or off by simply single-clicking that indicator in the Status Bar. Doing that, however, will not do away with any changes made previously. For that, click on the Review tab and make sure the drop-down at the top of the Tracking section says “Final: Showing Markup.” The buttons in the Changes and Comments sections of the Review tab will allow you to review and accept or reject any lingering marked edits or embedded comments that still appear in the text.
Is your Trust Center set up correctly?
Microsoft Word has options that will warn you whenever you open, save or print a document with tracked changes or comments. This is usually turned on by default. Now would be a good time to double-check. Click the Office Button in version 2007 or go to the File tab in version 2010, then click the Word Options button. On the left-hand side, click the Trust Center button, then click the Trust Center Settings button. In the Document-specific settings section, you’ll see two checkboxes that need checking: (1) “warn before printing, saving or sending a file that contains tracked changes or comments” and (2) “make hidden markup visible when opening or saving.”
Has your document been inspected?
If you don’t have a third-party metadata cleaner (a purchase you should seriously consider), Microsoft Word has a Document Inspector feature that will double-check for comments, revisions, versions, annotations, document information (such as editor), custom embedded XML data, invisible content and hidden text. To access document inspector in Word 2010, go to the File tab, then Info, then click the Check for Issues button. In version 2007, click the Office Button, Prepare (underneath the Print icon) and go to Inspect Document. Word will report anything suspicious and give you a chance to clean those up before attaching your document to an email.
Third-party metadata cleaners do have advantages over Word’s Document Inspector feature. Third-party products can inspect files from multiple software packages and often can be set up to run in the background as soon as you press the “Send” button on the email. These packages are available in every price range, making this an affordable essential for even the solo practitioner.
It’s Your Responsibility
Whatever solutions you decide to use, you have to be certain that every document that goes out from your firm is free from potentially compromising metadata. Get yourself and your staff equipped with adequate procedures, training and software to ensure that every electronic document that goes out is clean.
Deborah Savadra is editor and chief blogger at Legal Office Guru, which specializes in helping legal professionals learn Microsoft Office features like Flagging Outlook E-mails for follow-up and Using Outlook Rules & Alerts. You can follow her on Twitter@legalofficeguru.