How to scrub your word documents before sharing with the opposing counsel or court
Most Word documents contain hidden metadata that shows the history of the document. That data shows when the document was first created, who authored the document, and the last time the document was modified. Even more troubling, if the document was edited in Track Changes, those comments and revisions may still be accessible even though you have turned off Track Changes. You never want your opposing counsel or a judge to see any comments in your document that were between you and your paralegals. You certainly do not want them to see a comment that may contain confidential information about your clients. In fact, you do not want to share any information that may seem harmless, such as the date, you created the document, or who last edited the document.
If you must share a document in Word, you will need to take some extra steps to “scrub” the hidden metadata from the document. Indeed, you might want to “scrub” your documents as a matter of routine before sharing them with anyone outside your office.
First, you should instruct Word to warn you before you save or send a file that was edited with Track Changes:
- Click on the File tab
- Select Options
- Go to the Trust Center box
- Click on Trust Center Settings
- Click on Privacy Options on the right
- Check Warn before printing, saving or sending a file that contains track changes or comments.
Next, you must scrub the paper of hidden metadata. Turning off Track Changes will not scrub your paper of comments. Instead, you must use the Document Inspector to remove the hidden metadata. Here is how:
- Click on the File tab
- Click Check for Issues in the Prepare for Sharing box
- Click Inspect Document
- Check four of the six boxes: (1) Comments, Revisions, Versions, and Annotations; (2) Custom XML Data; (3) Document Properties and Personal Information; and (6)(at the bottom) Hidden Text.
- The Document Inspector will then identify the types of hidden data in the document and give you the option to Remove All of each type of data.
The Document Inspector will not remove highlighting, so you must remove it yourself:
- Click the File tab
- Click Options
- Click Display
- In the box for Page Display Options, turn off Show highlighter marks.
If you need to share a document with the other side or the court you should always share a PDF document. A PDF shouldn’t show hidden metadata and you shouldn’t need to scrub the document. Nonetheless, the Florida Courts disagree. Many Florida Courts suggest to sanitizing your PDF documents BEFORE uploading them to the Efiling Portal.