November / December 2003  Volume 29, Issue 8
ABA Law Pracice Management Magazine, November/December 2003 Issue
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Building Collaboration with Adobe Acrobat
Simon Chester
Simpler, friendlier, more integrated—an essential product just got better. Adobe Acrobat 6.0 has powerful new features for facilitating communications with your clients and colleagues.

The remarkable spread of Adobe Acrobat, and the acceptance of its ubiquitous Portable Document Format (PDF), has pervaded all of our desktops. Every lawyer’s workstation should, by now, have Acrobat Reader installed as a standard application. It is essential to full use of the Internet and to effective client communication through e-mail. Law firms have increasingly relied on Adobe PDF as a common format for document exchange with clients and others who may be on different platforms. The reason, of course, is that a document saved as an Adobe PDF file looks the same regardless of the original document format.

The full Adobe Acrobat program offers many other ways to process documents. And now, with the recent release of its newest version, Acrobat 6.0, Adobe provides a significant breakthrough for law firms looking to develop their collaborative capacities—whether internally, with clients or with co-counsel.

A Better Interface in Three Packages
Acrobat 6.0 comes in three versions: Standard ($299), Professional ($449) and Elements, a corporate version ($28 per seat, for a 1,000-seat minimum license). The fact that Elements’ license restrictions exclude all but a handful of settings in which lawyers practice limits its use in our sector, which is a pity. For power users, the Professional version has additional tools that permit fine editing of documents that will be commercially produced.

However, most documents generated by lawyers, while complex in structure and format, tend not to be graphically rich or complex in layout and other publishing elements. So for most legal professionals, the $299 Standard version of Acrobat will be adequate. It contains all the key features.

Chief among the improvements in all three versions is a redesigned user interface that is much simpler and friendlier. The most common features have been built into large buttons, and the more specialized applications reserved for nested menus. It is now much easier to select text or images for copying—simply draw a box around whatever you want to copy. Also, the search engine is much improved. The strength of this alone justifies upgrading your current version of Acrobat Reader to what’s now called Adobe Reader, version 6.0.

Tools to Leverage Teamwork via E-mail
For lawyers, the most attractive feature of Adobe Acrobat 6.0 lies in its ability to facilitate collaboration, leveraging the fact that e-mail is the key tool for lawyer collaboration. It does so through a remarkable set of tools to drive document processing, helping lawyers create, share, review, edit and archive documents regardless of format. For those using the Microsoft Office suite of products (including Word), there is very tight integration.

The file-sharing utility creates documents to share, compressing them for e-mail transfer. Those who draft documents can send them to a team for reviewing—the team can be internal or external and doesn’t have to be running the software in which the document was originally created. Simply save the document as a PDF file, attach it to an e-mail and generate a standard message telling the reviewers how to use the file.

Comments and revisions from reviewers are then imported back into the original PDF as layers. The author can review the comments, decide which to accept, then export the comments and suggested changes back into Microsoft Word. The program is significantly more powerful than Word’s Track Changes function, since it permits multiple reviewers to work simultaneously on the same document. Note that the reviewers must have installed either the Standard or Professional Adobe Acrobat programs to annotate the files.

The new program makes it much easier to undertake file creation, both within standard Microsoft Office applications, as well as on the Web. Adobe adds a toolbar that permits documents to be created in PDF, _e-mailed and sent out for review. One especially useful feature is the ability to create a single PDF from a large number of files in disparate formats. (At my firm, we are automating corporate closing books, and this feature will be invaluable.)

In addition, recognizing how much business now relies on the Internet and Web-based information, the capturing of Web sites has been significantly enhanced, and the sites so captured now include flash and live links. As the Web evolves, more documents are being generated with extensible mark-up language and contain metadata. Acrobat, taking account of this development, has a better bond between the PDF and XML formats, offering PDF as a container for metadata.

Neutrality and Security Factors
At the technical end, Adobe has done a good job of preserving its neutrality toward operating systems. While Acrobat is optimized for Windows XP, the Mac version seems to work well, and it is available for other operating systems, too. Adobe has also succeeded in achieving greater compression, and file sizes are now shrunk to half the size available with Acrobat 5.0. The compression is described as a minimum of 29 percent and a maximum of 79 percent, depending on the original file’s complexity.

Last but not least, Adobe continues to offer an attractive package of security features in the new version. It permits digital signatures and encryption (using Microsoft Crypto API). A nice aspect of the digital signature feature is that documents can be identified as certified, unaltered or digitally signed.

Version 6.0 requires 245 megabytes of hard disk space, with a recommended 64MB to 128MB of installed RAM. (I think the program will run much better if you have more RAM than that.)

Does Your Firm Need Acrobat 6.0?
The drawbacks for a law firm lie in the relatively high cost. At $229 per user, it is a high price to pay—albeit for a splendid collaborative tool. My ultimate recommendation is that every law firm upgrade the Acrobat Reader on its desktops to Adobe Reader 6.0. The great things about the new version of Reader are that it provides a much more robust search capability, the ability to complete forms and the ability to digitally sign documents.

Adobe has come forward with an excellent update to a great product, which all law firms would benefit from deploying. My only hesitation in recommending the product more generally is its relatively high sticker price, if it needs to be deployed in an enterprise-wide fashion or given to all lawyers in the firm. Since Adobe Reader is free, however, the decision to upgrade that for every user in your office should be a no-brainer.


Simon Chester ( simon.chester@mcmillanbinch.com) is a partner in the KNOWlaw Group at Toronto’s McMillan Binch LLP.