PRODUCT REVIEW
Adobe Acrobat 8

Reviewed by David L. Masters

David L. Masters practices law in Montrose, Colorado, and may be reached at .

When Adobe released the first beta version of Acrobat 8 Professional in the summer of 2006, I began using it daily in my practice. In addition to daily use, I have looked closely at the new and improved features for coverage in the forthcoming third edition of my book, The Lawyer’s Guide to Adobe Acrobat (available later this year from the ABA Web Store). As a general practice, small firm lawyer I read reviews. Often as not, I do this to help decide whether to borrow or buy a book, purchase a gadget, or acquire a piece of software. With that in mind, should you purchase or upgrade to Adobe Acrobat 8? Yes. Why? New features, improved features, and an improved user interface. But, before we look at the improvements in Acrobat 8, a few words about prices and the Acrobat family of products.

Acrobat Editions and Pricing

Professional. Acrobat 8 Professional provides essential tools for the legal community to create and combine electronic documents, manage reviews, build forms, and secure information. Acrobat 8 Professional also contains features specifically created for the legal community, including redaction and Bates numbering. With Acrobat 8 Professional, PDF files can be enabled to allow users who have only the free Adobe Reader software to review, add comments, fill in PDF forms, and digitally sign PDF documents. Upgrade price: $159; full version: $449. (For more details, see www.adobe.com.)

Standard. Acrobat 8 Standard offers basic yet powerful tools to create, combine, protect, and share Adobe PDF files. Acrobat Standard generates PDF files that accurately represent the original document, whether paper or electronic. Upgrade price: $99; full version: $299. (For more details, see www.adobe.com.)

Adobe Reader. The freely available Adobe Reader, which for some reason did not score an “8” next to its name, allows users to view, print, and search PDF files, and it also makes PDF files freely shareable across multiple operating systems. More than 500 million copies of the free Adobe Reader have been distributed, making the ability to view a PDF file ubiquitous. This software, of course, is free.

New Features

With the release of Acrobat 8 Professional, Adobe Systems has responded to the needs of lawyers by including within the application functions for Bates numbering, redaction, and metadata removal.

Bates numbering. To legal professionals, “Bates numbering” means applying sequential numbers to individual pages of documents, usually in the course of litigation. When documents are produced in litigation, either through disclosure or discovery, you need to be able to say with certainty precisely which documents were produced—no more and no less. By numbering each page sequentially, often with leading text for more reliable identification, legal professionals can accurately identify the documents that were produced. Acrobat 8 Professional offers legal professionals the ability to add Bates numbers to individual or multiple PDF files. Electronic Bates numbering using Acrobat 8 Professional beats using a mechanical stamp or placing labels on paper documents hands down.

Redaction. Lawyers must often share documents with other parties. In many instances, however, not all information in those documents should or can be shared. Acrobat 8 Professional enables you to excise sensitive or confidential information in PDF files. In PDF files with text, you can search for words and phrases and automatically mark them for redaction; in image-only PDF files, you can manually select information for redaction. When Acrobat 8 applies redaction, the marked text or selected image areas are permanently and securely removed from the PDF file. Simply stated, the redaction feature in Acrobat 8 Professional is stunningly powerful and easy to use.

Metadata removal. In addition to removing visible content from documents, lawyers need to verify that no hidden information exists in their documents, including metadata, before those documents are distributed. The new Examine Document feature can scan through your document and alert you to hidden information that you may not be aware of, including metadata, comments, file attachments, and other elements. You can then remove some or all of those elements with a single click.

Customizable toolbars. With Acrobat 8, Adobe revamped significant portions of the user interface to make it more usable and to maximize the space available for the work area. The greatest improvement to the user interface, in my opinion, comes from the ability to customize the toolbars. Many tasks can be performed in Acrobat by clicking an icon on one of the toolbars. Indeed, some tasks can be performed only by clicking on a toolbar icon. Acrobat opens with a set of default toolbars; more specialized and advanced toolbars can be displayed at your command. Acrobat 8 Professional groups tools into 16 toolbars (17 if you count the Properties Bar as a toolbar). Acrobat 8 allows users to customize the toolbars by selecting which tools will be displayed. As you begin to work with PDF files on a regular basis, you will find it worth the time spent to customize the toolbars to display regularly used tools and hide the ones that are rarely, if ever, used. Right-clicking in the toolbar area displays a menu; near the bottom of that menu you’ll see the “More tools…” option. In the More Tools dialogue box you select the toolbars that are displayed and the tools that will be shown on the selected toolbars.

Improved Features

Optical character recognition (OCR). The OCR engine has been substantially improved in Acrobat 8. The improved OCR engine works faster and produces more accurate results. If you want to be able to search PDF files created by scanning, you can configure Acrobat 8 to automatically perform OCR as an adjunct to the scanning process.

Combining files and PDF packages. With Acrobat 8 you can combine files of varying types into a single PDF file. You could do this with Acrobat 7, but Acrobat 8 improves the process by making it “wizard-driven” and by offering the choice of producing a single “merged” file or a “package.” A collection of files consisting of PDF files, JPEG or TIFF image files, and Microsoft Word or Excel document files (but not WordPerfect document files—Adobe needs to rectify that) can readily be merged into a single PDF file or assembled into a package. “Merging” files combines them into one sequentially ordered PDF file. “Packaging” files wraps the separate files into one PDF package. In either case, the resulting file or package can be easily secured and sent via electronic mail. The PDF package feature offers an elegant solution for combining and organizing large collections of litigation documents. PDF packages may contain a full-text search index for fast text searching. Packages also offer a convenient method for batch printing PDF files.

Standard or Professional?

When Adobe introduced the Standard versus Professional distinction in Version 7.0, the choice was more difficult. With Version 8, most lawyers should consider only Acrobat Professional. The choice comes down to features. Acrobat 8 Professional provides Bates numbering; redaction; automatic form field recognition; the ability to enable Adobe Reader users to participate in reviews with complete commenting and markup tools, including sticky notes, highlighter, lines, shapes, and stamps; the ability to enable Adobe Reader users to fill and save PDF forms locally for offline use; and the ability to enable Adobe Reader users to digitally sign PDF files. Bates numbering and redaction, together, probably tip the scales to Professional. Throw in the enhanced form and enablement features, and the choice becomes clear.

Adobe PDF has become the de facto standard for the exchange of documents in the legal community and the de jure standard for electronic court submissions. Acrobat 8 offers lawyers powerful yet intuitive tools for working easily and efficiently with PDF files. Included are tools for creating, accessing, and enhancing PDF files; legal-specific tools for Bates numbering, redaction, and metadata removal; tools for collecting and securing information; and tools that facilitate collaboration.

Acrobat 8 brings compelling enhancements to an already indispensable tool for lawyers. New features, improved features, and an improved user interface more than justify the cost of upgrading and should give any lawyer who has yet to purchase a full Acrobat license strong incentive to do so. Acrobat remains the choice for managing PDF files. Acrobat 8 Professional supplies the power, convenience, and flexibility you need.

Acrobat 8 for the Mac

Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is the special issue editor of GPSolo’s Technology & Practice Guide and editor-in-chief of the Technology eReport. He also teaches business law in the graduate and undergraduate divisions of the Business School of the University of Phoenix and is a member of the Law Society of England and Wales and a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He may be reached at .

For each of the last several iterations of Acrobat, Dave Masters and I have done a two-piece review. David wrote about the Windows version and I wrote about the Mac version. In the past, some fairly significant differences existed between the Mac and Windows versions, which always gave me a lot to write about. Although Adobe did a pretty good job of trying to keep the two platforms on a par, the Windows version always had a few more features than the version for the Macintosh platform.

This time Adobe did an excellent job in attempting to equalize the platforms. The Professional version of Acrobat 8 for the Mac has almost all the same features and capabilities as the version for the Windows platform. Although the differences between the platforms cause each version to have its own peculiarities, the simple fact of the matter is that Adobe recognized the importance of a program like Acrobat to attorneys and included several features designed for the legal market. They included all of those features in both the Mac and the Windows versions of Acrobat 8.

I will not reiterate Dave’s comments on those features in this part of the review. Suffice it to say that I think he did a fine job describing the new features for law office use. I will spend some time talking about problems with the optical character recognition (OCR) feature in Acrobat 8 that David did not address and that, interestingly, apply both to the Mac and the Windows platforms.

I have had a good opportunity to check out the new version of Acrobat. I worked with Acrobat 8 on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms from the late Beta stages through the released product. I have used it on the Mac OS platform on G5 and Intel Core 2 Duo desktops and G4 and Core 2 Duo laptops and operating systems through OS X version 10.4.9. I have also used it on the Windows platform on a Lenovo laptop running a Core 2 Duo processor and Windows XP Professional and on a Windows XP Professional virtual computer created through Parallels on both an iMac desktop and a MacBook Pro running Core 2 Duo processors.

The inclusion of all the legal-use features in the Macintosh version comes at a time that the Macintosh has gained and continues to gain a greater following among attorneys, particularly in the small firm and solo practice setting. Several years ago I reached the conclusion that Acrobat belonged in every law office. As we engage in greater use of electronic files in litigation and in other areas of our practice, Acrobat assumes an increasingly important role in handling and processing those files.

More and more attorneys have turned to the use of electronic files for documents production responses. In my own practice, I regularly scan or have scanned hard copy documents from all parties, creating PDF files for the documents. Acrobat 8 quickly and easily handles the addition to and/or deletion of pages from a PDF file. That allows us to add later-produced documents to the collection without any problem. The ease of addition, deletion, duplication, and creation of a new, updated PDF file facilitates the use of the files in discovery, trial preparation, and in trial. I have found that trial judges are generally quite pleased to receive a disk at the beginning of the trial with a PDF file of all the documents you plan to introduce into evidence (or better yet, one that includes all the documents that both sides plan to use).

Having the documents in PDF files instead of boxes makes my life much easier. A computer takes up less space and weighs much less than one box of documents, let alone several boxes. If I know that I will have access to a computer where I am going, I don’t even need to bring one with me but can simply carry the documents on a small external drive, even a flash drive.

As you might imagine, Acrobat’s ability to OCR documents and make the file searchable ranks highly among its features for attorneys. In previous versions Acrobat’s OCR function ran at such a slow speed that my secretary used to save that process until the end of the day, at which time she would start the OCR process and then go home—especially when dealing with large files. She usually found it completed the next morning when she returned to work. Once the program completed the process, searching a large file also took a while. Adobe dramatically improved the speed of the OCR process in Acrobat 8. Unfortunately, some of the other issues with the process remain for later upgrades or newer versions.

One of the biggest problems with using Acrobat’s OCR process to create a searchable PDF file is that it cannot handle too many document types. OCR programs generally cannot read documents written by hand, handwritten comments on printed documents, or drawings. Poor-quality copies of documents also create problems. Any collection of documents will likely have some documents that do not work well with OCR programs. As a result, the program will not read them, and a search using Acrobat will not find them. In addition to that, I have continued to get render errors on many files. I first encountered the problem using the Mac version, but I have since learned that the problem impacts both the Mac and the Windows versions of the program. Adobe personnel have informed me that Adobe continues to work on a solution for the problem but has not yet found one. One of the culprits apparently is the application of Bates numbers to a document prior to running it through OCR. A work-around to the problem: 1) make sure that the files produced to you have not been previously Bates numbered by Acrobat or some other program; 2) OCR the files; 3) then Bates stamp them. Other work-arounds exist. To get the most current information on this, you may want to check out the posts on the Acrobat for Legal Professionals Blog.

Adobe has done one interesting thing differently for the Mac and Windows platforms. On the Macintosh side, Adobe created only a Professional version of Acrobat. Adobe maintained both the Professional and the Standard versions on the Windows platform. Mac users should not feel left out or discriminated against by this decision, as most of the legally oriented features that you will want to have in your office exist only in the Professional version. I understand that you can upgrade from Acrobat Professional 7 or from Acrobat Standard 7 to Acrobat Professional 8 for the same $159 price.

Attorneys should seriously consider acquiring this upgrade. The Bates stamping and redaction features alone justify the cost of the upgrade. If you do not have an older version, I still maintain that every law office should have and use Acrobat. I believe the program easily justifies the cost of acquisition.

Copyright 2007

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