Solo Newsletter

Volume 11, no. 1

Psst! PDF Is the Way to Go!

By Robin Page West

Our paralegal was about to take the answer to a complaint against one of our big clients to the federal clerk’s office for filing when I serendipitously decided to check the court’s Web site first:

All new civil and miscellaneous cases . . . will be subject to the electronic filing requirements and procedures set out in this manual. . . .

Holey moley! Somehow I had to file it online. What a pain, I thought, as I told the paralegal to go get a cup of coffee instead. I went to the federal courts’ CM/ECF (case management/electronic court filing) Web site at www.uscourts.gov/cmecf/cmecf_about.html and learned that the CM/ECF system uses standard computer hardware, an Internet connection, and a browser, and accepts documents as PDFs (portable document format.) The court would even e-mail a notice to all counsel with a hyperlink to the file so they could print their own copies.

It sounded simple enough. I converted the answer to PDF, logged on to my federal district court’s electronic filing Web site (it requires a password), and—voila!—it was filed! With that, our firm’s transition to a “paperless office” had begun.

For those in search of a roadmap to the paperless office, The Lawyer’s Guide to Adobe® Acrobat® by David L. Masters, explains it all in terms a lawyer can put to immediate use. After you spend hours filing and organizing a client’s papers, Masters writes, you spend additional time “rummaging through the folders and redwells knowing that one document can be found in there—somewhere. On the day of trial you pull out the trusted dolly and load up your redwells and boxes and head to the courthouse. . . . Then opposing counsel makes mention of that one special document, and. . . . There is an easier way: go paperless; go digital; go PDF; go Acrobat®.”

Masters takes the reader on a step-by-step tour of how to create and organize the digital, paperless office, as well as how to work with PDF documents, including searching and indexing, navigation aids, commenting tools, document security, digital signatures, extracting content, and more.

Cost to stick your toe in? Flatbed scanners, including basic software to organize and create the basic PDF files: less than $300 and you’re ready to take a test drive. If you like what you find, you can always invest in a more robust scanner and additional software tailored to your needs.

With CM/ECF soon to be mandatory in all jurisdictions, having the ability to work with PDF files is no longer optional. Get with the program now and change your office practices for the better.

Robin Page West, editor-in-chief of SOLO, is a shareholder in Cohan & West, P.C., in Baltimore, Maryland, and can be reached at rpw@cohanwest.com.

The Lawyer’s Guide to Adobe Acrobat by David L. Masters (ABA Publishing 2004); 150 pp.; $59.95; order online at www.abanet.org/abastore.

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