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Acrobat documents are now easier to manage

Some pointers for mastering PDFs

Adobe Acrobat solves so many problems in the document-intensive legal industry, it’s pretty easy to get lawyers to share their favourite PDF pointers. Read on for a quick selection of useful PDF tips.

Reducing paper clutter

Edmonton-based Field Law partner Jeremiah Kowalchuk explains a workflow that many lawyers probably already use. “Paper correspondence gets scanned and shredded,” he says. “Our scanner is hooked directly into our document management system, Worldox. We don’t see the actual PDF creation step.” Kowalchuk adds that his experience with Acrobat began when he used copies included with the scanners his firm purchased.

Kowalchuk’s firm keeps some paper originals — in some cases, to reuse them. “If we have to send out a hard copy, we can send the one that came in,” he explains.

Receiving and sending faxes

In many law offices, faxing resembles e-mailing. Upon receipt, faxes are automatically turned into PDFs and stored in an inbox, while sending faxes involves sending PDFs from a computer screen to a fax number.

Making documents ‘findable’

PDF creation in law firms ought to include making the contents of documents “search- able” so that people can find information by typing terms in a search tool that the documents ought to contain.

The process of making a document’s text searchable is called optical character recognition; OCR lengthens the process of converting documents to PDFs, but it saves time when you need to find documents. “When I look for a precedent and I can’t remember what I did or what it was, I type keywords into Windows Search,” says David Feld, partner at Toronto’s Feld Kalia Barristers & Solicitors.

Creating annotatable documents

In much the same way one highlights or “red-pens” paper documents, one can also mark up text in PDFs. “I indicate things I want to discuss with clients,” Feld says. “As a mobile lawyer who frequently works from anywhere but the office, I need the ability to review and revise PDFs on the go,” adds lawyer Donna Neff of Neff Law Office in Stittsville, Ont. “To mark up a PDF document on my iPad, my favourite app is neu.Annotate. I find it simple, uncluttered and easy to use.”

Speeding up document usage in court

You can put bookmarks in PDFs — they take you right to pages you mark. Other PDF-reading software takes this convenience a step further. Apple’s Preview, for instance, contains a “bookmarks” menu in which links are independent of whether the document is open — it simply opens documents to the requested page.

Ordering documents

During litigation, Kowalchuk uses an Acrobat portfolio to assemble required documents. He then turns the portfolio into a PDF, burns it onto a DVD and sends it to opposing counsel. “If you burn individual files to a disc, they don’t always get saved in the right order,” he says, adding that an Acrobat portfolio keeps documents in the order he wants.

If need be, remember to use Bates numbering in a PDF that contains multiple documents.

Collecting information

Acrobat forms can streamline processes in several ways.

Kowalchuk asks his clients for several types of information, such as timelines and other aspects of a case, using PDF forms. He hasn’t been entirely successful at getting clients to fill out the forms, though.

“They don’t understand why I need them to fill out something like that versus talking about it and writing it down myself,” he admits.

Creating PDFs from within other software

Tools located in software such as Microsoft Word can help you save a few steps when making a PDF. Also, if you use Word’s heading styles and its table of contents tool, Acrobat can convert table of contents entries into links that lead to the sections they “head.”

Redacting documents

Parts of a given e-mail might be relevant to a matter, but “you might add that your kid is sick and you’re going to the hospital with her,” says Kowalchuk. “It’s personal and not relevant. We redact those portions of e-mails.”

Do you redact your documents properly? Try this: copy all the content from a document you redacted and paste it into a text editor. If you see redacted content in the text editor, the PDF wasn’t properly redacted and other parties can easily learn what you meant to hide. Take a few minutes to learn how to use Acrobat’s dedicated redaction tool.

Reducing PDF file size

Feld figures mail servers start to decline attachments when they reach about 10 MB in size. That’s why he has larger files reduced in size (or “optimized”) prior to sending. “You lose some quality, but the smaller size means it can leave the office via e-mail.”

Automating repetitive tasks

Rather than print documents, sign them and scan them back in to digital form, Feld created a digital stamp that contains his signature.

“If I do something three times, I don’t want to do it a fourth, so I spend time to automate that task on the third time,” he explains.

Neff offers other examples. “We created a custom portfolio ‘cover page’ with our firm logo. A ‘draft’ watermark is applied to each document, which only appears if the document is printed.”

Including audio and video

Adobe added Flash-handling capabilities to Acrobat so that users can embed audio and video clips into PDFs.

While usage of this feature doesn’t seem widespread in the legal community, “documents” such as security camera video clips or recordings of phone conversations might eventually make their way into PDFs.

More tips

Rick Borstein, business development manager for Adobe Systems, maintains its “AcroLaw” blog, targeted at legal professionals of all stripes.

He developed the “flatten” utility, which is freely available via his blog, Neff says. “This essential utility allows you to push the various layers of a PDF together, making it more secure and pretty much uneditable by others.” Check out Borstein’s tips at

This article originally published in Lawyers Weekly Magazine. For a PDF of the article, see below.[gview file=””]