Adobe has made a point of reaching out to legal professionals and other knowledge workers with its recent release of Acrobat 8. Now the company is offering a new, hosted document service that also aims to provide useful features for professionals who need to control access to important electronic documents. The Adobe Document Center gives attorneys and other legal professionals tools to control who can receive files, how long they can keep them, and what they can do with them while they have them. It does come with some costs and limitations, however, so solo practitioners and small to midsize firms should take a close look before deciding to subscribe to the service.
Larger firms will most likely want to go with Adobe's LiveCycle Policy Server instead of subscribing to the hosted service. The Policy Server is an enterprise-level piece of software that firms can install directly on their own servers. Licensed users can then secure documents directly from Acrobat, Outlook, Word or Excel.
Document Center Features
The Document Center builds upon the framework of the Policy Server, but there is no need to install any software - as long as you only want to work with PDFs. The most important features of the Policy Server are available to Document Center subscribers, and a free plug-in allows users of the service to protect documents from their preferred MS Office applications.
Within the Document Center, subscribers can outline security policies that govern whether or not to track document usage; the printing, copying and commenting rights of document recipients; the authorized recipients for a file; and the period during which the recipients can access the file. Once the policy is established, users can apply the policy to a document through Word, Acrobat or Excel. The document will then appear in the list of protected files in the Document Center, and subscribers can audit the document's usage, switch policies, or revoke access using the Center's well-designed interface.
Recipients will need to be online to access the documents, since Acrobat or the MS Office plug-in must verify the security settings of the document and the identity of the recipient before granting access. Once the recipient has completed the initial connection to the Document Center service, a default of three days of offline access is allowed. The number of offline days can also be adjusted within each security policy.
Adobe also plans to add new features to the Document Center in the coming months. First, the company will roll out document storage and sharing capabilities. Next will be an online review and mark-up feature, capped off by a system for document routing and approval. Look for all these new services to be available sometime around the middle of next year.
The service has a wide variety of applications for attorneys and other legal professionals. It represents a great way to protect and share privileged documents, and will limit the possibilities of inadvertent disclosure of confidential information. It could also gain acceptance as a method for producing documents to opposing parties in e-discovery proceedings, since the recipients could be limited to a negotiated list. This will reduce the chance of sensitive information from leaking out during a lawsuit. Watch for more developments on this front as application of the new federal e-discovery rules begins to mature.
The Document Center's benefits do come with a cost, however. In literal terms, that cost amounts to $19.99 per month for an individual user, or $199 for an entire year. In addition to the actual cost for the service, there are some other drawbacks: first, as mentioned above, working with Word and Excel files requires a download. It also takes some time to learn how to use the new features and work with the secure system that the Center operates. Then, once you get the hang of it, there can still be some problems with conflicting versions of files. That can be overcome by always saving a copy of the file you wish to protect before you assign a policy to it, though.
Finally, and perhaps the biggest problem with the service, is that document recipients must download the same plug-in for Word and Excel mentioned above to access those types of files, and also have an Adobe ID and password before they can access any type of protected documents, even PDFs. This could impose a major inconvenience on recipients and lead to push back when attorneys attempt to send documents outside their practice. If the service gains popularity, it may become commonplace for attorneys to have an Adobe ID. Until then, early adopters might run into problems trying to convince recipients to accept protected documents.
All in all, the Adobe Document Center offers some great functions that can help protect information and regulate document workflow. Each attorney and practice should look at their needs, capabilities, and the costs associated with the service before signing up, however.