Law firms frequently need to redact sensitive information in documents before distributing them. This may include information that is visible in the document or that is not immediately visible, such as metadata or author information.

Information that you may want to redact is not limited to trade secrets or covert operations. It’s often mundane information, such as credit card numbers or passwords that have little bearing on the legal matter at hand, but are private nonetheless.

Before you redact your document, you should make a copy, because if it’s done correctly, it is permanent and the redacted information cannot be retrieved.

You can redact documents in various formats, including Office programs like Word and Excel, as well as PDF files. If you are creating legal documents in Word, it’s better to redact it in the original documents, even if you plan to save them as another format.

Invisible or Permanently Removed?

It’s important to understand how to redact legal documents because if you do not erase the information correctly, others will still be able to access it. And just because information is immediately invisible to the naked eye does not make it inaccessible. (For that, you either have to print the document or use an image-only PDF file. “Image-only” is the operative term.)

You cannot just make a black background behind black letters – if you can still select text in a PDF reader program, then you can copy and paste it to an editor (e.g. Notepad) and see the previously blacked-out information. You can do the same in Word or simply remove the highlighting.

One more tip: When redacting, you probably will want to redact more than one word at a time. When you only redact one word, it’s often possible to predict what the missing word is using today’s technology.

Word’s Metadata Inspector

Both Word and PDF documents can carry metadata, which describes data in your document. It may include information like document properties, author’s name and hidden text that can’t be seen by just looking at the document’s face. However, it is easy to delete directly from Word.

  1. With your Word document open, go to the File menu.
  2. Select the box that says “Check for Issues” and then “Inspect Document.”
  3. Once you select this, you will be given a long list of types of data to inspect. Check the box next to each type of data you want to permanently delete.
  4. Click “Inspect,” and after the process is complete, click “Remove All.”

This will permanently remove all the selected inspected information from your document (once you save the document).

This only works with metadata, however, and does not work with text visible on the document. Now let’s look at how to redact visible information.

Redaction Tool for Word 2007/2010

Microsoft created the CodePlex redaction tool for Word 2007 and Word 2010, but Microsoft no longer supports this program. Perhaps Microsoft just did not want to open themselves up to the potential liability if something went wrong. This free tool is still available though, and many people are using it with Word 2013 and Word 2016.

The program installs a small toolbar in Word. You highlight the words you want to redact and click the “Mark” button. You can do a search for a specific word(s) in order to mark them all for redaction. Once you are finished, the tool will then suggest you use Word’s metadata inspector, which is described directly above.

If you have an IT department, they can modify the source code in order to customize this tool. If this interests you, you will want to review the license information.

Third Party Redaction and Repair Tools

If you frequently redact documents, you will probably want to buy a third-party redaction tool for Microsoft Word. Some options are:

Redact Assistant works with both Word and Excel files. It is available both as an app and desktop software.

Intellidact Redaction is an automated redaction system from Computing System Innovations (CSI) used by courts and other government entities. iRedact is a self-service portal to CSI’s Intellidact Redaction Service for attorneys that enables you to upload documents for redaction.

If you redact occasionally, but find yourself spending too much time cleaning up broken documents or trying to properly format repurposed content, Word RT™ could be the software solution you need.

It helps reduce risk by producing clean documents free of document history and metadata, and can be partnered with Word LX™ for complete document automation and efficiency.

Be Overly Cautious

Whatever redaction method you choose, you should double-check that sensitive information has been thoroughly redacted in your documents. This is especially true when using older tools.