Written by Matthew E., OLN Freelance Attorney.
Whether you are working from home when you otherwise would be in the office, working after hours, or are working “on vacation” far away from the customary setting of your office, the benefits of technology can make your life easier. This comes with an essential caveat….so long as you understand the implications of what you are doing.
Tip 1: Please do not send Word documents to opposing counsel unless you have no option. If you have no option then proceed to Tip 2. Word documents are essentially your rough drafts of correspondence. You would not send drafts of correspondence to opposing counsel and so please do not email them Word documents. Word documents are not only susceptible to change, but they may include a digital version of your law firm’s letterhead. You would not send opposing counsel a large stack of your letterhead; sending a Word document with your firm’s letterhead is no different. While some opposing counsel would not use the Word document to their advantage, it is not worth taking the chance of encountering opposing counsel who may manipulate the Word document for their own gain. If you must send attachments to opposing counsel, save the file as PDF and send that instead. You can rest assured that you will not fall victim to unscrupulous lawyering.
Tip 2: When you must send Word documents to opposing counsel, for items such as Separate Statements for Motions for Summary Judgment, you should always remove the “metadata” from the file. Metadata is the hidden data associated with a file. Common metadata entries for Word documents include the document’s author, company, title and subject. Other metadata can include “track changes”, past versions of that document or comments made on the document. In the case of “track changes”, sometimes the changes may be “hidden” but they are not removed from the document. If you send a Word document with unredacted metadata to opposing counsel, opposing counsel might be able to make the “track changes” visible, thereby revealing edits or comments that you intended for internal use only. You might reveal your client’s confidences and find yourself in a heap of trouble.
Thankfully, you can now use the Word “Document Inspector” to remove this potentially damaging information before you share your work with others. To find the “Document Inspector” open the Word document you want to have inspected. Then click “File” and look for “Prepare for Sharing” then click on “Inspect Document.” You will then be greeted by a prompt asking what data you want removed; click the appropriate boxes and then submit. The Document Inspector will tell you what metadata exists and gives you the option to remove any or all of the metadata.
These are just a couple in a long string of tips. A little bit of knowledge can take you a long way. Please watch for the next post in my series about digital lawyering.