Metadata, Shmetadata. "It won’t happen to me."

What is Metadata and why do you care?

Simply? Metadata is information about information. In Microsoft Word documents, it includes information about how and when a document was edited as well as the edits themselves. The edits themselves? Yes.

As you create and revise documents, your edits (document revisions, document versions, hidden text, comments, file property and summary information, non-visible portions of embedded objects) are saved, along with information about you (your name, initials, firm name, the names of previous document authors, the name of your computer, network server name, template information).

Why? Metadata isn’t a mistake or a recently discovered computer “bug.” It’s included in Microsoft Word by design. Computer programmers work in a collaborative environment and they need to document changes to program code. Metadata allows programmers to “see” who developed the code, when those developments occurred, and how those developments are manifested in the application. Unfortunately, programmers don’t practice law, so while Metadata makes logical sense from a programmer’s view of the world, it doesn’t work well in the rigorous, document-centric world of law firms.

For law firms, a big reveal comes with the use of the Track Changes feature. If Track Changes are used, but not accepted, all tracked changes are saved with the document. (Switching the display view from “Final Showing Markup” to “Final” isn’t the same as accepting the changes.) And even if the software is used correctly, look what I found:

Excerpt from the Microsoft Word Legal Users Guide
for Word 97 and Word XP (2000) (LOTS of people are still using Word XP)
Microsoft’s warning regarding the use of its Compare Documents Feature

“IMPORTANT NOTE: Microsoft recommends that most law firms use a third party solution for document comparison, such as Lexis-Nexis’ CompareRite, or Workshare’s Deltaview. See the chapter on third party solutions for more information about these products. Microsoft Word’s compare documents features works on relatively simple documents that do not contain too much complex formatting. Because of the complex nature of most legal documents, Word’s compare documents feature does not produce as good a result as the third party products mentioned above. Microsoft is currently working to address this shortcoming, but in the meantime the third party solutions are recommended.” (emphasis added)

“As good as a result.”

What does that mean? In my experience, it means that when you accept changes, maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. You need to proofread the document to be sure your intended changes actually appear before you send it to anyone for review. But here’s the kicker. Others who revise the document must do the same. Will they? What version of MS Word are they using?

Follow me here:
A document leaves your office. It is edited by your client using the track changes feature. The client “accepts” the changes in the document. One (or more) of the changes they made to the document isn’t accepted and doesn’t appear. Assuming the software performed as requested, the client doesn’t proofread the document before he/she sends it back to you. You get the document and run a “compare” on it. The revised language wasn’t there when the document left you. It isn’t there when you get it back. Comparing the documents will not pick this up. Who is responsible for the missing or (UN)revised language?

Who will the client say is responsible?

The answer? Offer the client the value added service of legal document creation and revision. Furnish the client with the document in PFD for review. Accept all document revisions via a separate document or within the content of an email. Protect yourself, your client and the integrity of the document. Eliminate your risk.

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