On June 10, 2009, the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board issued Legal Ethics Opinion 2009-01 (What is Metadata and Why Should Lawyers Be Cautious?) to raise awareness among lawyers to be cautious when dealing with metadata. The opinion describes “metadata” as the data behind the data – including the location where the document is created, opened or saved, author’s identity, number of revisions, comments and redlining.
The opinion concludes that lawyers have a duty on both ends. The lawyer sending electronic information has the burden of understanding what information may be contained in the electronic document and take reasonable steps to protect metadata in transmitted documents. Likewise, the receiving lawyer has the duty and burden when receiving inadvertently provided metadata to consult with the sender and abide by the senders instructions before reviewing such metadata.
The opinion also points out that different rules on removing metadata apply in the context of responding to discovery responses and subpoenas. In this case the electronic documents may be tangible evidence and the rules of professional conduct may prohibit the removal of metadata, subject to an assertion that the metadata is privileged.
The West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board also issued Legal Ethics Opinion 2009-02 (Wholly-Owned Subsidiary Law Firms) on June 10, 2009. This opinion looks at the question of whether one law firm can organize a wholly-owned subsidiary law firm. The Board concluded that law firms are allowed to form wholly-owned subsidiary entities but cautioned that law firms should keep these entities transparent and fully disclose to the public and clients the relationship among the seperate entities.