Posted Mar 19, 2007 10:00 am CDT
A few years ago, lawyers were just another group of professionals who used Adobe’s Portable Document Format for saving files. But now that many court systems have adopted the PDF as an e-filing standard and litigators are using it to save millions of discovered documents, the company is paying special attention.
“After showing no interest for a long time, Adobe discovered the legal community,” says David Masters, an attorney in Montrose, Colo., and author of the ABA book The Lawyer’s Guide to Adobe Acrobat. “There are a couple of legal specific features in this version that were really needed and are really good.”
According to the 2006 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, 82 percent of all lawyers have software to create PDF files, most often Adobe Acrobat. For lawyers, key new features in Acrobat 8 are a Bates numbering tool, a redaction function, metadata stripping ability and an improved tool for combining multiple documents. The new version even has online conferencing built in.
Power to the People
One simple change could be the most useful to lawyers. The new version lets people fill in fields and save the changes even if they’re just using Adobe Reader, the free PDF viewer installed on almost every computer in the world. In the past, Reader users would have to fill in the fields, then print the form to send it by fax or mail. Now that you can save changes, lawyers can send a client a legal document in a PDF file and have it e mailed back with client additions, even digital signatures, saved in the document.
Adobe Acrobat 8 also includes a redaction tool to block out portions of a document something that used to cause problems. In an infamous example, the Pentagon posted a report on its Web site in May 2005 regarding the circumstances surrounding U.S. soldiers in Iraq who accidentally killed an Italian secret service agent. Some information deemed sensitive was blacked out, but people quickly found that if you highlighted the blacked out text and used cut and paste to put it into a new document, the words underneath were revealed.
Another issue of special concern to lawyers is metadata. Last year, the ABA Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility ruled that opposing counsel can look at the metadata the document information embedded in an electronic file that can reveal even changes and comments never intended to be seen. PDFs tend to have very little metadata, but with a mouse click, it is possible to remove any metadata in a document, making a PDF perhaps the safest way to avoid the problem.
The new release has a graphical interface that makes it easier to combine documents into a single file. This is useful for lawyers putting together presentations or court filings. And lawyers will no longer have to use a third party software tool to add Bates numbers. Masters notes the Adobe numbers are not permanent and can be erased.
The ABA technology survey found that 26 percent of attorneys use online conferences in their work. Acrobat Connect, a Web service formerly known as Macromedia Breeze, lets Adobe users set up online conferences. The system uses the near ubiquitous Flash software (the company says it is installed on 97 percent of computers), which means users can set up a videoconference with almost anyone using Adobe Acrobat 8. The cost to host a conference starts at $39 a month.
But not all legal professionals need all these functions, and there are less expensive alternatives available. (See the following article, “‘Acrobatics’ with a Twist No Adobe.”)
Acrobat 8 Standard, geared for small and medium businesses, retails for $299, and current Acrobat users can upgrade to version 8 for $99. Acrobat 8 Professional for large organizations sells for $449 or as an upgrade for $159.
“On the litigation side of things, PDFs are clearly becoming a standard,” says Masters. “I can even see it gaining momentum for transactional lawyers. … It’s rapidly becoming indispensable.”