Thursday, March 8, 2007
What Can Adobe do For You?
By: Courtney David Mills
IPA Technology Director and Litigation Paralegal at Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman, P.C.
During the early implementation of Case Management and Electronic Case Files (“CM/ECF”) in 2002, the Federal Judiciary made a decision to adopt Adobe Acrobat (a.k.a. PDF files) as its standard file format in its electronic filing/docket system. Despite its popularity in the federal judiciary, some legal professionals are still apprehensive about PDF files. This article will provide a brief background about PDFs, discuss some misconceptions about PDFs, and also focus on a few features that make PDFs such a great file format for the legal field. One of the most unique things about the PDF file format, is that name of the file actually explains a lot about why PDFs are so important and versatile.
The name of the file, PDF, stands for Portable Document Format. One of most useful features of PDFs is that the contents of the file look the same regardless of the settings on the users’ computers (hence the term “portable”). It doesn’t matter if you using a PC or a Mac, viewing the file on a computer or website in the U.S. or a computer halfway around the globe. The file will look the same. The secret to this feature is that a PDF's font and format information are stored as part of the actual file itself. This is one reason that PDFs can only utilize certain fonts and formatting information. Another important feature of PDFs also leads to some of the greatest misconceptions about PDFs; namely, that PDFs, like onions, have layers.
In its most basic form, a PDF is just a picture or image of an actual document. This simple PDF is very similar to another image format, TIFF. What makes PDFs more unique is the ability to manipulate and work with the imaged document. PDF can have a layer of text, a layer of comments (including underlining, highlighting, cross-outs, etc.), and even integrated functions like hyperlinks and bookmarks (creates a table of contents with links to particular sections of the document). PDFs can be larger more complex files that utilize one or more of the above features, or they can be more compact basic image files. The ability to take advantage of the above features depends in large part, on what version of Adobe Acrobat you have loaded on your PC.
The three (3) versions of Adobe Acrobat are; Adobe Reader, Adobe Standard, and Adobe Professional. The versions of Adobe are also named in order of release. At the time of this article, the most current version was Adobe 8. Adobe Reader is a free program available for download. It allows the users to open, and review PDFs, but users are otherwise limited and cannot edit PDFs. Adobe Standard and Adobe Professional are very similar products, and you can checkout adobe's website to compare specific features of each product. The following section will discuss Adobe Professional 8, which is Adobe latest (available $159 – upgrade from previous versions of Adobe Acrobat, $449 for the full version).
Adobe Professional 8 has a lot of new features that are designed specifically for the legal field. The following segment will focus on three (3) features that show the potential for Adobe Professional 8 in the legal field; redaction tool, built-in Bates numbering, and an improved OCR engine.
The Redaction Tool is a new feature that is only found in the Adobe Professional 8 software package. The redaction tool allows you securely redact information from PDF files. This feature is more or less a necessity in the e-discovery world where large amounts of information is being stored, and produced in PDF format. The ability to redact certain information saves the need to prepare mixed productions (regular documents in electronic format, and privileged documents in paper form). The two (2) basic forms of electronic redaction have always been to either “cover-up” or “remove” certain information. Adobe Professional 8 uses the “remove” technique which basically erases or removes a section of the document or image. This redaction tool is guaranteed effective and secure. The only warning is that this redaction is permanent and cannot be reversed (which I suppose is the whole point). When using this feature, Adobe will warn you several times before completing the redaction and encourages you to save a back-up copy of the file before redaction. The redaction feature is also part of the commenting package. This essentially allows a paralegal or associate to mark a section for redaction, send the file to the lead attorney for final review/approval, and then click accept redactions (which then redacts the information).
Built-in Bates numbering is also an exciting feature of Adobe Professional 8. It allows you Bates number a 10,000 page PDF in a matter of seconds with any bates numbering system that you would like. You can use letters, numbers, and even symbols. You can select different fonts and specify the location of the Bates number on the page. You can also choose to print/produce the document with or without the Bates numbers. This feature is especially nice in a world where most records are scanned at some point for integration into a document management system or litigation management system. With high-speed printers and copiers, it is almost always easier to scan the records, use the electronic Bates numbering tool, and the re-print the records for either production or to utilize as a working set of records. The original records can then be stored in the file as a secure, unaltered original for litigation purposes.
Improved OCR engine:
Although OCRing (Optical Character Recognition, a.k.a. scan to text) has been available on previous versions of Adobe for several years, the OCR engine in Adobe Professional 8 is actually worth getting excited about. It can OCR thousands of pages within hours. The accuracy is very impressive, even with faded or second generation copies of documents. This feature can essentially turn a box of documents into searchable PDF file within a matter of hours. Most of the work is done by the computer, so the human time involved is extremely limited and thus cost-effective. The OCRing feature in Adobe is called “paper capture.”
In summary, the PDF file format is a standard format in both state and federal courts. Due to the complexity of the file format and the myriad of options available, there are a lot of misunderstandings about PDFs in general. PDFs can be regular image files (much like regular TIFF files), or they can have layers with searchable text, comments, etc. The newest version of Adobe Acrobat (Adobe Professional 8) was specifically designed with the legal professional in mind. The tools featured in Adobe Professional 8 are quickly becoming a required program for litigation paralegals, especially those who are involved in e-discovery.
Blog of the Month:
Acrobat for Legal Professionals. This blog features great tips for legal professionals who utilize Adobe. It is updated about every 1-2 weeks with a new article or discussion.
Website of the Month:
Indiana State Climate Office. This website is a great tool to research all sorts of whether and climate information stored since 1996. It compiles vast amounts of data from whether stations across the state. It can tell you whether it was rainy and slick at 8:30 a.m. on the morning of April 14, 2000 (as a litigant contends). It reports very, very detailed information on visibility conditions, temperature, wind speed, precipitation, etc. All reports are free.
(the above links are directed to different sections of the same website)