DSP Develops Cutting-Edge Native Redaction Procedure for Spreadsheets

Redaction is a commonly used method to protect nonrelevant, highly confidential or statutorily protected information from disclosure during document production. Typically, documents in native format are converted to static images (TIFF or PDF) so that redactions can be applied using redaction tools available in most document review platforms.

Many file types, such as emails, word processing documents and presentations, generally retain the same length and format when converted to images; however, spreadsheets can become cumbersome and present problems. A modestly sized spreadsheet in native format can become thousands or even tens-of-thousands of pages when converted. While an email may take only a few seconds to redact and a presentation a few minutes, a spreadsheet redacted in TIFF or PDF format may take hours -- or even days.

In a recent large-scale e-discovery matter, a branded pharmaceutical manufacturer desired to protect information about its products that were not at issue in documents the company was required to produce. Most of the documents requiring redaction were emails or presentations, and redacting was simply a matter of removing a few lines or slides; however, there were 10 spreadsheets, which, when converted to TIFF images, resulted in approximately 60,000 pages that would require hundreds of hours to redact according to the client's specifications.

To avoid the cost of redacting the spreadsheets in TIFF format, LeClairRyan's Discovery Solutions Practice (DSP) developed a procedure for redacting them in their native format, using the software in which they were created (in this case, Microsoft Excel). This procedure took into account the significant differences between spreadsheets in native format versus TIFF or PDF format. Unlike the static versions, a spreadsheet in native format may contain a significant amount of dynamic content, including formulas for calculations and external data references, pivot tables, data-drive charts and graphs, and other embedded content. By using a combination of purpose-built Excel macros and defined processes for handling different types of spreadsheet content, DSP found it could substantially reduce the time required to redact any given spreadsheet.

Using the new DSP native redaction procedure, the review team was able to redact the 10 spreadsheets in approximately 20 minutes, an almost one thousand-fold reduction in the amount of time it would have taken without the new technique. The client realized an almost 50 percent savings on the cost of the redaction review and an approximate 25 percent savings on the cost of the document review as a whole. Native redaction, particularly for spreadsheets, is a tool that DSP now leverages across all document review projects to deliver cost savings to its clients.