Comment 8: And Just Like That, Everything Got All Meta Pt.2

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


Last month we looked at metadata as it exists broadly. If you are unfamiliar with the topic or need a quick refresher, you can find Part 1 here.

Today, we are continuing our conversation by focusing more specifically on what lawyers and legal professionals need to understand about metadata. Over the next three sections we will develop knowledge about when metadata useful, when to delete your metadata, and then a more granular look at metadata during discovery.


When is Metadata Useful?


All the time. Now moving onto the next section. Just kidding. Though it is pretty much all the time, the context in which it is useful constantly changes. As we stated last time, “Metadata is information about data that makes the data easier to organize, utilize, and understand”. System metadata, which is generated by our devices, helps us organize and later locate our work. Without system metadata it would be near impossible for us to get the file that we need when we need it. A process which we do by using the various file managers available within operating systems. Where System metadata is concerned more with organization, Application metadata is focused on utilization and understanding.


Application metadata, which is created by our software, is also incredibly important. One of the better-known instances of application metadata is the ability to track edits in Microsoft Word. Metadata in a Word file allows users to see previous versions, track who made changes, and even find out how much time was spent creating and editing the document. In the legal profession, these data can mean a lot to your workflows and billings. Metadata, importantly, provides more utility to the documents created within applications.


But how does metadata allow us to better understand data? Consider a digital photo. During a case, you find an image which may or may not be useful. How do you determine if the image was taken anywhere near the area you are researching? Was it even taken at the right day or time? For that we look at a special form of metadata known as Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) data. The EXIF data may show when and where the picture was taken, the settings of the camera, the model of the camera, who took the picture, and even more. There are, however, two important caveats. First, it is possible on most cameras to control the amount of EXIF data created before a picture is taken. Second, it is possible to delete EXIF data after a picture is taken.


Speaking of deleting metadata, now is the time for something completely unexpected: that this two-part blog on metadata will in fact be three parts!


Why did I decide to do this? The most important reason is because this blog started to run longer than planned and I want to respect your time by keeping these posts manageable. The other reason is because this will provide us some extra space to really dive into deletion and metadata during discovery. Despite this spontaneous intermission, Part 3 will be available later this month.