Criminal Justice

How to redact a PDF and protect your clients

  • Print.

Photo from Shutterstock.

In a technical oversight, lawyers for former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort failed to redact a recent filing correctly, making previously confidential information public.

The submission, filed Monday and made public Tuesday, was a response to allegations made by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office that Manafort lied to investigators after agreeing to a plea deal.

The allegations filed by the special counsel’s office were properly redacted. The defense’s filings were not, making public for the first time that Manafort is accused of sharing the 2016 Trump campaign’s polling data with his former Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik. BuzzFeed, Fox News and the Washington Post have the story.

Looking at the defense’s filing this week, they appear to be redacted. But by highlighting the black bars, the obscured text can be copied and pasted into a new document for anyone to read.

While not excusable, redacting PDFs incorrectly is a common error. Regardless of software you use, you have to be thorough. Here’s what everyone should be doing to properly redact documents.

If you’ve got the money, download Adobe Acrobat Pro. This includes the supported and unsupported desktop versions of Acrobat Pro. (It’s also worth noting for lawyers to remember not to use unsupported software.)

Paul Manafort. Photo by Mark Reinstein/

The software has a redaction button. To find it, click “Tools,” then click “Protection,” then click “Mark for Redaction.” If you don’t see the Protection panel, choose “View,” then click “Tools,” then “Protection.” From there, you can highlight the text you want to redact. Once you’re done, click “Apply Redactions” and then click “OK.” Then save the document with the suffix “_Redacted”. has a walk-through with images on how to do this.

Now, check to see whether the text is still there by copying and pasting the redacted section into a new document. If your text doesn’t appear, you’re good to go. If it does, then after you e-file or share it electronically, you will have made the same mistake as Manafort’s legal team.

If this is the case, after you’ve redacted your selected text, the solution is to flatten the document. In Adobe, go to “View,” then “Show/Hide,” then “Navigation Panes,” then “Layers,” and turn the document into a single layer. Perform the copy and paste test again.

You also might want to remove all the metadata in your document, as well. This could include information such as author’s names, document revision info and copyright info. You can do that by clicking “File,” then “Properties.”

If you’re looking for a free alternative to alter PDFs, another option is GIMP, an open-sourced image-manipulation program.

But be aware that using GIMP may cost you image quality because you have to convert the file from a PDF to an image file. Similar to Acrobat, you should flatten the document once completing the redactions.

Alternatively, cloud-based options also are available, such as PDFelement and They are less expensive than Acrobat and seem to have similar features. (The ABA Journal has not used these two products and cannot attest to their quality or security.)

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.