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  • A Bi-Monthly Electronic Publication for Section Members
  • April 2009

Technology and Law Practice Management

The Paperless Law Office: Creating an Electronic Closing Binder
By Tonya Johnson

Even a simple real estate closing can result in a number of closing documents. Complex transactions involve many more documents and ancillary items, such as title policies, surveys and insurance certificates.

Adobe Systems created the Portable Document Format (PDF) technology in 1993 for document exchange. Since that time, PDF has emerged as the de facto standard for sharing electronic documents due to its portability, accessibility and security. PDF files maintain the look of the native file, can be viewed on any Macintosh, PC, or Unix computer and are universally available to every computer user at no cost through the free Adobe reader. Of particular note to lawyers, shared files can be password protected, with permissions that limit the ability to print or alter the document; and Metadata and other sensitive information can be removed. More specifically for real estate lawyers, Adobe Acrobat can help streamline the labor intensive process of creating closing binders.

In a typical preparation for a real estate closing, a paralegal or other staff member is taking up valuable desk (and sometimes floor) space to organize and assemble documents to include in the closing binder. The printer is churning away to the exclusion of any other work as one or two staff people scramble to complete the binder for presentation to the client. The creation of these binders can be time-consuming, labor intensive and costly. If you have been considering cost-cutting measures, creating greater efficiencies and adding value to your practice, now may be a good time to consider creating electronic closing binders.

A professional version of Acrobat can help your staff create an electronic closing binder that can reduce the material and labor costs associated with physically printing and assembling a closing binder. An electronic binder can be even more valuable to your client due to its portability and the accessibility and searchability of the associated documents. If hard copies are needed, the specific documents can be printed by the client at his or her convenience, thus saving space, ink and paper. An electronic closing binder will fit nicely into your document management system. Resources previously dedicated to closing binder assembly can be more effectively used. Moreover, electronic closing binders carry the added bonus of being environmentally friendly. Your firm can join the "green" law movement that appeals to many clients while benefitting your bottom line.

An electronic closing binder can be created in Adobe Acrobat as a Binder or Portfolio document. Binders are likened to digitally stapled documents that accommodate a variety of files (for example Microsoft Word, Excel spreadsheets or scanned documents) by converting them to PDF format for easy review and collection. The Portfolio expands on the Binder format and is likened to a briefcase. The Portfolio document retains each document's native file format. Portfolios include greater security options, digital signatures and the option of subfolders for easier document organization, as well as a branding option that allows you to include the firm logo within the Portfolio for a more polished presentation. Both formats allow for the creation of a Table of Contents and bookmarking for easier navigation of the documents and quick access to key documents in anticipation of post-closing events.

The resources below will connect you to free instruction and documentation that will increase the returns on your Adobe investment while using less paper.

Resources

Creating Electronic Closing Binders using Acrobat 9 is the subject of a blog post by Rick Borstein, Business Development Manager for Acrobat in the Legal Market for Adobe Systems. The post refers to:

  • A 1-hour eSeminar on Closing Binders that demonstrates both the binder and portfolio formats as well as the strengths of each format and which versions of Acrobat will allow you to take advantage of these features.
  • A 36-page guide entitled Creating Electronic Closing Binders using Acrobat 9 that you can download and review at your convenience. The guide recaps the material covered in the online Seminar and serves as a quick reference document that clearly illustrates how to get up to speed in creating electronic closing binders.

Adobe's Legal Landing Page – Details the key features in Acrobat 9 of particular interest to legal professionals.

The Acrolaw Blog is a resource for the legal community published by Rick Borstein, an Adobe Certified Expert in Acrobat and a member of the American Bar Association. The blog provides tips, instruction and information to maximize your Acrobat investment and keep you up to date regarding scheduled live and online presentations conducted by Adobe.

Lawyers weigh in on the use of PDF and Adobe Acrobat

The following are some comments from lawyers on their experience using PDF and Acrobat.

PDF for Lawyers – Attorney Ernest Svenson blogs about using PDFs in the practice of law.

A discussion on using Adobe Acrobat with YourABA and David L. Masters, author of "The Lawyer's Guide to Adobe Acrobat," – Discusses some of the unique characteristics of the software that are especially useful for lawyers.

These references should aid you and your staff in creating electronic closing binders.


Tonya Johnson is a Research Specialist with the American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center



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