Much Ado About Metadata?

Farrell Fritz, P.C.
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Anyone reading this blog has likely heard about metadata and its potential role in a litigation (See, “Never Agree to Do Something Your Client Cannot Do;” “The Perils of Self-Collection;” and “A Lawyer’s Obligation to be Technologically Competent – Part 4”). But we must remember that if metadata is an integral part of one’s litigation (and it often is), it must be a key consideration addressed promptly in the litigation life-cycle because potentially relevant documents must be collected in a way that ensures the metadata of a file is not inadvertently altered.

You may ask, why is metadata important? Among other things, extracted fields of data (for emails this includes the author, recipients, date sent, subject etc.) and metadata fields (for other electronic documents this includes the creation date, author, date last modified, title, etc.) provides the structure of a document database including the relationship between emails and attachments, the original path of the document, and the source of the document. Providing this data during discovery promotes efficiencies of time and contains costs.

If, however, documents have been collected or accessed in a manner that altered metadata, the data produced will be compromised. Additionally, if the original metadata was not preserved, the data produced may reflect as the creation date, for example, the date the data was collected, or reviewed. This is not only misleading, but may raise avoidable questions about spoliation and the integrity of the collection, processing, and review process. It is therefore critically important to think about metadata at the very initial stages of a litigation.

Additionally, it is advisable to confer with your adversary about what metadata is being produced. There are many potential fields but certain ones are more standard than others. For example, the following are fairly typical metadata fields (although some are file-specific):

  • FileName
  • FilePath
  • FileSize
  • Hash
  • Language
  • StartPage
  • EndPage
  • ReviewComment
  • From
  • To
  • CC
  • BCC
  • Subject
  • Header
  • DateSent
  • DateReceived
  • HasAttachments
  • AttachmentCount
  • BegAttach
  • EndAttach
  • Attachment Names
  • ReadFlag
  • ImportanceFlag
  • MessageClass
  • FlagStatus
  • FileName
  • FileExtension
  • FileSize
  • DateCreated
  • DateAccessed
  • DateModified
  • DatePrinted
  • Title
  • Subject
  • Author
  • Company
  • Category
  • Keywords
  • Comments

Because metadata can be useful in a litigation strategy (i.e., it can help highlight patterns, establish timelines, point to gaps in the data and connect data to a particular user) it should be discussed at the outset of litigation along with steps necessary to collect data in a way that ensures the integrity of that metadata.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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