Are you properly redacting your documents?

Post authored by Tisha Delgado, brought to you by

Filing documents with confidential information is common but often mishandled. Confidential information ranges from Social Security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, account numbers, and date of birth, among many others. To properly file, confidential information must be redacted.

Hand Redaction

Redacting documents, such as an income tax return, used to require someone first making a copy of the tax return to keep the original intact and untampered. Working with the copy, a paralegal or legal secretary would then go through each page of the tax return searching for Social Security or tax identification numbers, routing numbers, and account numbers and then, usually with a black Sharpie marker, mark over the confidential information where it appeared on the page. Once the confidential information was marked, a copy of the now redacted income tax return would be made. This second additional copy was necessary because if you held up the Sharpie redacted page to a light, you could still see the underlying information.

That process was tedious, time-consuming, and unbillable, so it makes sense that technology would step in to help speed up the process.  Now, software allows us to quickly redact information. One simply scans a paper document onto a computer, converts the file to a PDF, and redacts the confidential information using PDF software.

Proper, Modern Redaction

The most popular brands on the market today for PDF software are Adobe Acrobat and Nuance.  The “pro” versions of these products will usually be the ones that have a redaction tool. Do not risk exposing your client’s information by trying to use a cheap workaround. Be sure you are using a software product that is intended for redaction. You do not redact a document by simply drawing a text box over confidential content in a PDF document, or highlighting the content and then changing that highlight color to black.

Besides the proper software, a properly trained individual who knows what should be redacted and how to manage the software should handle redactions. This ensures that your clients’ paperwork is fully and correctly redacted.  The American Bar Association approved a change to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to make it clear that attorneys have a duty to be competent in technology. The redaction failures in the news most often stem from people do not know how to properly use the redaction technology.

Additionally, unless you have trained your staff, do not assume that they are properly using the software’s specific redaction tool to redact documents. They too must be trained on how to use the software to redact and what the risks are if they are not properly redacting. If your staff is confident that they already know how to redact, politely ask them to show you. If they are not using the software’s actual redaction tool, they are not properly redacting the documents. Be sure to instruct them or provide training on how to use the software’s redaction tool in order to ensure that confidential information is not inadvertently exposed.

Redaction Examples

Redacting documents using either Nuance’s Power PDF Advanced or Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is a three-step process. Using the software’s redaction tool, you will first “mark” what you want to redact, meaning that you will draw a box around the text or content that you want removed.

There is a red box that appears when you are marking what you want redacted, as shown below.

Redact 1

After you have marked your content for redaction, you will then “apply” the redaction. This will delete the content behind that red box you created, and replace the outlined red box with the standard black box. This is called “burning in” the redaction.

Redact 2

The last step is to save the newly redacted document. Please note that the redactions will not be fully burned into the document until you have saved.

You must perform all three steps for the document to be fully redacted. If you skip a step, you risk exposing your client’s information.

Successful Redaction

Redacting documents does not need to cause stress or anxiety. It can be a simple, straightforward process with the right tool. If you take a little time to research, you can find reputable software that will not only redact your documents but also has added features. Some such features are Bates numbering, helping you to create fillable forms, or allowing you to add, delete, rearrange, and rotate pages. Some of the advanced features will also allow you to search a multi-page document for a single word or phrase, or patterns such as an account number, credit card number, email addresses, dates, and of course Social Security numbers.

Do not waste your time or your client’s money by continuing to redact with a black Sharpie marker. Invest in a good PDF software program and start spending less time redacting.

About the Author:

Tisha DelgadoTisha Delgado is a senior litigation paralegal and e-discovery specialist at Golan Christie Taglia, where she maintains complex databases and assists clients in collecting and exporting electronically stored information and social media. An educator, trainer, and thought leader, Tisha is frequently called on to speak at paralegal schools and legal education conferences. She currently advises legal professionals on e-filing rules and procedures, and how to create successful workflows to accommodate an evolving e-filing system in the Illinois state courts. Tisha is a member of the National Federation of Paralegal Associations and the Illinois Paralegal Association, presently serving as its Vice President and Litigation Section Chair.






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