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Metadata Mysteries: The (Not So) Complicated Case of Legal eDiscovery

metadata mysteries legal ediscovey

Law firms can’t avoid it. eDiscovery of case files and other critical records is quickly becoming part of the day-to-day document management process. Meeting these electronic demands requires commensurate technology.

In fact, 96.6 percent of all law firms now use some type of PDF creation software to manage their increasingly digital case load. However, creating documents is only half the battle. Organizations must also solve the mystery of metadata to unlock the full potential of document workflow.


Metadata Made Easy

Meta…what? Metadata describes information embedded in digital files that isn’t immediately obvious, but offers significant value when properly leveraged. Obvious examples here include location and time. For example, documents carry timestamps which show when they were last modified.

In cases where document timelines and changes are critical to court findings, metadata can easily demonstrate truth or falsehood. Location tracking, meanwhile, can be incredibly useful for placing events in context via digital photos.

If defendants claim they were at home during the time period in question, but pictures shared to social media or taken with smartphones include metadata that disagrees, prosecutors gain the advantage.

Metadata typically fits into one of three broad categories:

  • Descriptive — Includes basic search data such as title, author, or document keywords.
  • Relational — How data relates to other, similar data. This could include image editing information or how pages are structurally formatted in larger documents.
  • Locational — Where data is stored in your network, and who has rights to access data at this location.



Finders Keepers

The metadata challenge for many firms? Discovery. How do they find what they’re looking for, and quickly? As noted by CMS Wire, the rise of metadata adds a new dimension to the old adage that “content is king.” While the statement holds true, even highly informative and relevant content quickly loses value if no one can find it.

The result? Organizations need a way to easily search existing databases using search parameters such as names, date created/modified, case number, or applicable keywords to reduce time spent finding and keep case files on track.


Hiding in Plain Sight

While over 95 percent of law firms now use PDF creation software, adoption rates of metadata software vary wildly across organizational size and scope. It’s tempting for many smaller firms to avoid the cost of metadata applications and rely on less sophisticated eDiscovery tools, but this carries risk – relevant data hidden in plain sight.

Attorney Daniel J. Siegel describes one such metadata encounter in a recent article. After reviewing a document sent by an opposing counsel, he discovered metadata in the form of deleted text, notes, and tracked changes that hadn’t been fully removed from the file.

Best case scenario for law firms? This accidental eDiscovery is inconvenient for document workflow. Worst case? Potential compliance violations if files contain clients’ personal or redacted information. Here, the right metadata application can help ensure metadata stays — and goes — exactly where it should.


eDiscovery On Demand

Demand for eDiscovery fluctuates by case type, case load, jurisdiction, opposing counsel requests, and a host of other factors. As a result, it’s often cost-prohibitive for firms to employ full-time eDiscovery teams or purchase dedicated metadata tools.

HTML5 document viewing is one option to address metadata privacy without breaking law firms’ budgets. HTML5 viewers can be installed at the enterprise level, or integrated with an existing application, to quickly display documents through a browser without bringing the metadata along for the ride.

If you’re getting a little nervous about what your metadata is telling the world about you, there’s no need to try to figure out how to scrub the hidden data from every type of file you share. Make HTML5 viewing the window on your content, and keep the metadata where it belongs: out of sight, and out of mind.