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Archive for May 31st, 2022

Comment 8: And Just Like That, Everything Got All Meta Pt.1

The ABA Rules of Professional Conduct, Model Rule 1.1 Comment 8 requires, “To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer shall keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” To that end, we have developed this regular series to develop the competence and skills necessary to responsibly choose and use the best technologies for your educational and professional lives. If you have any questions, concerns, or topics you would like to see discussed, please reach out to

Though I often get accused of hyperbole when I make this statement, I do believe that data is the biggest product of the 21st century. Data helps us make decisions. It helps us to drive to places we’ve never been. Data sends targeted ads to the webpages that we visit and it digitizes the credit cards in our pocket so we can buy coffee with our phones. Like the Ouroboros, we are locked into a potentially never-ending cycle of creating and consuming data. There is so much data in our lives that every year a news outlet will claim that ‘90% of all the data that exists in the world was generated over the last two years’. We have so much data that our data has gone meta.

Metadata, by definition, is data that provides information about other data. “That’s great,” you say while possibly replaying scenes from the movie Inception in your mind, “but what does that mean?” It’s really great that you asked because the first of this two part series is going to try and explain what metadata is. Next month will look specifically at metadata in the legal profession. But before we get there, what do we mean when we say “data that provides information about other data”?

Think about how you use primary and secondary sources. In the legal profession, the former is constitutions; statutes; regulations; and cases, and the latter are the materials that talk about or analyze the primary sources. Metadata is analogous to this, which we will see when we look closely at the three types of metadata.

Descriptive: this information tells us something about the data and is usually used for discovering and identifying. A title or an author is the most common example.

Structural: this information explains how complex data is organized. For example, the table of contents and index of a book tells us where to go to find the information that we need.

Administrative: this information tells us about the creation and usage of the data. This type is relatively broad and is often broken down into subcategories. If you’ve ever brought up the properties for a file then a lot of what is there is administrative metadata. Examples of this are the person who created the data, when it was created, and who can view it.

This discussion was specifically crafted to be broad as there is a lot of nuance that can come up when discussing metadata in different disciplines; however, everything still tends to fall within these three categories. After looking at the types of metadata and understanding more about them, I think we can make a small tweak to our definition above to help better understand what it means.

Metadata is information about data that makes the data easier to organize, utilize, and understand.

Next month we will look at the unique issues that legal professionals should be aware of when it comes to metadata.