Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional: a Revolution for Legal Document Production and Management

It is rare when a new piece of software becomes instantly indispensable for legal practitioners. The release of Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional marked just such an occasion. Attorneys, paralegals, eDiscovery specialists, knowledge managers, document librarians - any legal professional who deals with the creation, organization or archiving of legal documents will find a feature in Acrobat 8 that will make their lives easier and improve the quality of their work. Acrobat 8 will also help legal professionals protect client information and prevent the exposure of legal strategies and other work product.

Acrobat 8's utility comes at a cost, however. Adobe estimates that a new, single-user version of Acrobat 8 Professional will come in at around $449, while an upgrade from a previous version will cost about $159. Across an entire practice or enterprise, this could add up to a substantial expense. There are also the matters of disk space and memory to consider: a fully installed version of Acrobat 8 takes up roughly 550 megabytes of space on a user's hard drive; and the program consumes 50 megs of memory upon initialization - before any documents are even loaded.

These costs might outweigh the benefits of the program for some, but others might be too busy drooling over the new features to care. Let's take a look at the enticements Acrobat 8 possesses, shall we?

Redaction

One of the greatest pitfalls for legal professionals working with PDFs has been the difficulties with redaction. There are many high-profile examples of cases where "redacted" material in a PDF was still easily accessible by the public. Methods to prevent such exposures added time-consuming steps to projects, and often resulted in the loss of important functionality.

Adobe responded to these concerns with a new redaction feature in Acrobat 8. This tool allows legal professionals to easily, and permanently, redact any object in a PDF file, without any document conversion or reduction in functionality. Users can place the redaction toolbar on the Acrobat GUI, or they can navigate to the tool through the drop-down menus. Either way, users simply select the tool, then highlight the text or object they wish to redact. Once every item has been selected and reviewed, the user can apply the redactions across the entire document. Users can also use the redaction toolbar to search and redact portions of the document that repeat, such as names or social security numbers.

It is important to note that once the redaction has been applied, the information underneath the familiar black redaction bars is gone forever. While this is exactly what one would want from a redaction tool, it could result in the loss of data that could still be used internally. After any redactions, Acrobat helpfully prompts users to save documents under different names or in different locations. Be sure to save redacted versions of the document separately to avoid the loss of useful information.

Examine Document Feature

As a corollary to the redaction feature in Acrobat 8, Adobe has included a tool that will examine PDFs for metadata, hidden text, annotations and comments, and other information that probably shouldn't see the light of day. Once a user applies redaction to a document, an option window pops up asking if Acrobat should scan the document for potentially sensitive information. It then gives the user a screen to select which types of information they wish to remove. Once the data types are selected, all the user has to do is click a button, and Acrobat will strip the document of data that is lurking under the surface of the document - yet another way that Acrobat 8 will help legal professionals secure their client and firm information.

Bates Numbering

One of the most basic, yet frustrating and expensive, components of document preparation is Bates numbering. With thousands of pages of documents, numbering each page used to require an expensive document service, or a long, mind-numbing stretch of numbering by hand. Now, legal professionals can use Acrobat 8's Bates number tool and have the whole process wrapped up in a few minutes.

If there are a number of electronic documents you wish to add Bates numbering to, just open the Bates numbering tool, select the files you wish to number, place them in the order they should appear, and voila - Acrobat will apply the Bates numbering across the documents in a matter of seconds, saving both time and money.

Shared Review and Acrobat Connect

Typically, when collaborating on a project, participants will email documents and revisions to each other. This can result in far-flung versions of documents floating around the office, making the centralization of edits and ideas complicated and cumbersome. Acrobat 8 seeks to alleviate the difficulties of collaboration by enabling shared review of a centrally-located document. With the help of an easy-to-use wizard, Acrobat can place a file on a network drive and invite participants to edit and comment on the document. These notes and changes are saved to the document and are accessible to all participants. Thus, the participants can all review and edit a single document and the changes can be implemented directly from the shared edit, rather than requiring an aggregation of comments and edits from multiple copies of the document.

In addition to this shared edit feature, Acrobat 8 allows for real-time collaboration through the Acrobat Connect service. The service is accessible through Acrobat, and builds on the functions contained in Macromedia's Breeze. Connect uses Flash and is web-based, so users can participate regardless of their operating system or browser choices, and it allows users to create meeting spaces where they can display documents, invite comments and engage in audio- and video-conferencing. This, too, comes with a price, however - a yearly subscription for a single meeting space will set you back $395 a year.

Email Archiving and PDF Packaging

While working on a matter, emails are certain to pile up. For legal professionals, those emails may contain ideas or communications that should be preserved. To this end, Acrobat 8 offers the ability to create an email archive from either Outlook or Lotus Notes in order to store and protect important messages. Users can even automate the process on whatever schedule they prefer. The program creates a PDF file for each message, then assembles the files into a PDF package for easier sorting and searching.

What is a PDF package, you ask? Well, a PDF package is a convenient way to combine multiple files and formats into a single, optimized file. It's a great way to pass information on a matter between attorneys or other legal professionals, and it offers more choices than a simple ZIP file. For example, users can choose specific pages or worksheets to include in the package, instead of simply tossing entire files into a bucket. Like a ZIP file, however, PDF packages allow users to compress the data a little in order to facilitate transmission and conserve disk space.

Form-field Recognition and Data Collection

One of the coolest and most useful features in Acrobat 8 is its ability to take a non-fillable form, recognize the form fields, and create a fillable form out of it. Legal professionals fill in countless forms countless numbers of times. With this feature, those tasks just got considerably easier, as static forms can now become interactive with just a few simple keystrokes.

Acrobat also allows creators of forms to easily collect and share the data they produce. Plus, creators can now allow users of the free Acrobat Reader to save copies of the form that they have populated with information. This makes users' interactive forms both more useful and more pleasing to clients and customers. In short, everyone wins.

Conclusion

Every piece of software has its annoyances: for Acrobat 8, it could be the price tag, the memory drain, or the somewhat over-simplified interface. At the end of the day, however, the time and effort that this new version of Acrobat will save legal professionals at all levels is difficult to ignore. The new Acrobat 8 promises to change the way that legal professionals interact with electronic documents in their practices, and legal professionals will no doubt soon count Acrobat 8 among the few pieces of software that they cannot do without.