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An Acrobat alternative, at a third of the price

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No law practice these days should be without professional-strength Portable Document Format software. For electronically filing a brief, redacting sensitive documents, preparing a production set for discovery or managing a paperless office, PDFs are part of lawyers’ stock-in-trade.

The gold standard for PDF software has always been Adobe Acrobat Pro. That makes sense, given that Adobe Systems developed the format in the early 1990s as a way to present documents consistently across operating systems. But with Acrobat Pro’s retail price of $449, many lawyers—especially in smaller firms—are on the lookout for more budget-friendly alternatives.

Until now, lower-cost alternatives lacked many of Acrobat Pro’s capabilities. But that changed earlier this year when Nuance Communications introduced Nuance Power PDF Advanced, a full-feature professional PDF program. As I mentioned on my LawSites blog, it has all the bells and whistles lawyers would want and expect in a PDF program, but at a third of the cost of Acrobat Pro—$149.99 (a 30-day free trial is also available).

Nuance also offers a scaled-down version for individuals and home offices—Power PDF Standard—at $99.99. Most lawyers, however, would want Power PDF Advanced. It adds several features that are important in a law practice:

• Redaction to black out sensitive information, including the ability to automatically search and redact.

• Bates stamping and advanced header and footer functionality.

• Checking for PDF/A and Section 508 compliance, including the ability to fix files that don’t comply.

• Secure delivery, encryption and digital rights management capabilities.

• Integration with LexisNexis CaseMap.

The advanced version also offers the ability to integrate with file-sharing sites and document-management systems. A smaller law office could use this feature with Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs or Office 365. A larger firm could connect with an enterprise DMS such as Autonomy, Documentum, SharePoint or NetDocuments.

During testing of Power PDF Advanced, I found no shortcomings versus Acrobat. I could do everything I would want with a PDF program. The biggest adjustment was adapting to its different interface, which uses a Microsoft Office-style ribbon toolbar. Once I did, I found it easier to perform many common tasks than with Acrobat. Toolbar menus seemed more intuitive and let you add, remove or rearrange items to suit your preferences.


One feature you will not find in Acrobat Pro is integrated speech recognition. Nuance has given Power PDF its Dragon Notes technology, based on its Dragon speech-recognition software. This allows you to add notes to PDF files by dictating. Power PDF sends the speech off to Nuance’s servers in the cloud to process and, in an instant, the text appears in the note.

OmniPage, another Nuance product, provides integrated optical character recognition in Power PDF. In my tests, OCR results were comparable to Acrobat Pro.

And Power PDF Advanced can process watched folders and batch sequences, allowing users to automate common tasks. Once set up, it “watches” designated folders for new documents and then processes them according to your instructions. Using watched folders, you could simply drag documents to a folder to convert them to PDF. With a batch sequence, you can combine multiple commands to be performed as a single batch, such as first stamping and then watermarking a group of documents.

Along with these advanced features, Power PDF includes standard features such as:

• One-click creation of PDF files from within Microsoft Office.

• Creation of PDF packages and portfolios.

• Conversion of PDF files into Word, Excel, PowerPoint and WordPerfect.

• Conversion of image PDFs to searchable PDFs.

• The ability to edit PDF content, including graphics and charts.

• Drag-and-drop ability to add or remove pages from a PDF document.

• Full commenting and annotations.

• Support for network scanning.

Unlike Acrobat Pro, Power PDF will not produce files in PDF/X, a format used for printing, or PDF/E, used in engineering. Few law offices would need either capability.

Considering price and functionality, Nuance Power PDF Advanced is a budget-friendly alternative that does not compromise on capabilities.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “An Acrobat Alternative … at a third of the price.”

Robert Ambrogi is a Rockport, Massachusetts, lawyer and writer. He covers technology at his blog LawSites and co-hosts the legal affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer.

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