Technology Property Editor: Gerald J. Hoenig, 8495 Caney Creek Landing, Alpharetta, GA 30005, email@example.com.
Technology—Property provides information on current technology and microcomputer software of interest in the real property area. The editors of Probate & Property welcome information and suggestions from readers.
Paper Reduction Tools
This column addresses the author’s progress toward the ultimate goal of the paperless office. The author’s admittedly unscientific suspicion is that, despite all the talk over the years of converting to a paperless office, more paper is used today in the practice of law than ever before. Even though the amount of electronic work on legal documents is increasing, a very strong preference to read paper documents remains. Paper tends to be more portable. One can read it virtually anywhere the available light is sufficient, on the train, bus, airplane, the waiting room in the doctor’s office—anywhere. One can easily take the paper home or on vacation and read it on a comfortable sofa or chair. One can use a laptop computer to escape the office, but paper still avoids sitting in front of a computer screen with the hazards of eye strain, carpel tunnel syndrome, and other computer afflictions. It is easier to make notes on paper documents, which can be made any place on the paper, using a pen, pencil, highlighter, rubber stamps, sticky notes, or any combination of commenting and editing tools.
Up until a couple of years ago, the author’s own personal preference was to draft electronically, whether preparing the first draft of a document or making modifications as the result of feedback from a client or from other parties to a transaction. On receipt of documents prepared by outside counsel or counsel representing other parties, the author’s strong preference was to read hard copies. That preference probably had strong roots in the fact that in the “old days” one received only paper copies of documents to review. There was no choice to be made—that is the way it was done. Paper was more convenient, and with the state of office technology in such “ancient” times, not many people gave a thought to transforming a paper document into an electronic one. In those days, the resolution of computer screens and the glare of cathode ray tubes made reading on the screen less desirable than using the reliable paper format.
A couple of years ago, the author started to review a large volume of legal documents from his home office. His document delivery preference, between overnight delivery and e-mail, was requested, and the response was that for relatively small documents e-mail should be used, but larger documents should be delivered by hard copy. The acceptance of small documents by e-mail was for the client’s convenience and not the author’s. Small documents were fairly easy to print, but large volumes of large documents would require too much expense for ink and paper. The intent was to review the documents on paper. The decision was made without much thought, and in hindsight, the author should have realized that paper was not the best approach. The author certainly was not a technophobe, being among the few at that time who embraced computer technology. Few lawyers were more interested than the author in applying technology to the legal practice.
Now, the author is receiving greater volumes of documents to review and avoids receiving paper like the plague. What explains this conversion? The bottom line is that great combination of quality and efficiency. On-screen document review can be done more efficiently and can result in a higher-quality work product in contrast to the old standby of reviewing paper documents. This obviously will not be the case for everyone. Personal preferences play a big role, but it is important to keep one’s mind open to the possibility of doing things differently. There is a psychological barrier to break. Once that is overcome, an overwhelming majority of lawyers will experience the benefits of on-screen document review. Those lawyers going through college and law school in the personal computer age probably have no barrier to overcome.
The author’s ideal work station has two 19-inch flat screen LCD monitors connected to the computer. In reviewing documents, one screen is used for displaying the document under review, and the other screen is used for making notes and comments. This is very easy to set up, using a video card that supports two monitors. The two monitors effectively double the width of the viewable screen. To move an item from one screen to the other, merely click on the item, hold the left key of the mouse in the down position, and drag the item from one monitor to the other. To do this, the window one is dragging from must generally not fill all of one screen. If it does fill all of one screen, simply click on the box in the upper-right-hand corner of the window immediately to the left of the close window box to “restore down” the window.
The documents the author reviews are received by e-mail in the portable document format commonly referred to as “PDF,” developed by Adobe Systems Incorporated, one of the world’s leading software companies. On rare occasions, the author receives a document in another electronic format, which is easily converted into PDF. On equally rare occasions, the author receives paper copies, which are easily converted to PDF by scanning the document. Reaping the benefits of the PDF format has become so important that the author spent about $900 to purchase a high-speed, high-quality scanner to quickly convert paper documents to PDF documents at about 25 pages per minute (50 pages per minute if the pages have print on both sides).
The PDF documents received by e-mail are equivalent to photocopies of paper documents. One immediate benefit delivered by a PDF is illustrated by the receipt of a document of very poor image quality. This probably results from multiple generations of faxing the same document, because faxing a document usually results in some degradation of the image. Paper documents are sometimes received of so poor image quality that they are impossible to read. Reading the document on a computer with Adobe Acrobat enables the author to easily adjust the magnification level to make an otherwise unreadable document readable on the screen. The author has yet to receive a document of such poor image quality that it could not be read on the screen in this manner. Poor image quality may dramatically increase reading time. In such cases, better copies are requested, but sometimes better copies are unavailable.
A second advantage of on-screen review using Adobe Acrobat is the ability to access quickly any part of the document. Many mistakenly think paper has a big advantage in this area. Having a good idea where a certain provision is located in a document, one can quickly turn multiple pages at once in a paper document to get to the desired location. On the computer, however, the pages are commonly scrolled through one at a time. The creation of bookmarks in Acrobat provides a means to move quickly back to a previously viewed location. Getting into the habit of bookmarking important provisions allows quicker access in Acrobat than with a paper document. By the way, bookmarking in Acrobat is easier and less time consuming than bookmarking in Word—so do not be deterred by a less-than-ideal experience of bookmarking in Word.
Documents received in PDF format usually contain all relevant amendments to the document. Quickly page through the entire file and bookmark the first page of each separate document. This provides instant access to each separate document as needed. In contrast, comparable paper document functionality requires stapling or paper clipping together each separate document, placing a tab on the first page of each document with a label identifying the document, and making sure that the stack of paper documents remains together without being intermixed with documents from other transactions. An additional navigation tool in Acrobat makes PDF the preferred format for multi-page documents; that is, Acrobat’s search capability. Being able to search for words or phrases provides great time savings compared to reading an entire paper document looking for the desired words.
About 99% of all PDF documents received are not searchable. A paper document is merely scanned and converted to an electronic image. The resulting PDF file does not contain any information about the words that are on each page. The file primarily stores information about which pixels are black and which pixels are white (assuming the scanning was not performed in color). Such a document has no significant advantage over one that is a photocopy of the original, except for the better organization and quicker access to significant sections of the document.
Fortunately, optical character recognition (commonly referred to as “OCR”) software is available to make such documents searchable. By applying OCR software to the document file, the patterns of dots on the page can be recognized as characters of the alphabet as well as numbers and punctuation marks. After performing an OCR of a PDF file, the original image looks exactly the same, except that pages that were scanned in skewed will be straightened during the OCR process. The actual text is stored in the background, and each text word is related to the image of the word seen on the screen. The OCR process is not perfect, because the copies of documents that are put through the OCR process usually have defects of various types. The author has tried this out on hundreds of documents, and with only a very small percentage of the documents were the furnished copies so poor that the search and copy benefit of OCR was unrealized. An option in the OCR process allows the image seen on the screen to actually be changed to conform to the words recognized by the OCR process. This actually makes the image more readable, because the “defects” in the image are essentially removed. This option should not be used, however, if one wants the document to look exactly the same as received. The OCR process could make a material change in the meaning of a document provision.
Performing OCR is a relatively simple task using OCR software. Adobe makes Acrobat Reader available for free, so anyone can download a free copy from the adobe.com web site and be in a position to read a PDF file on his or her screen. Acrobat Reader does not, however, have an OCR function or a bookmark function. The full Adobe Acrobat Standard Edition provides OCR capability. As of March 10, 2007, the Standard Edition costs $299 according the adobe.com web site. Adobe Acrobat Professional has even more features than the Standard edition and currently costs $449. See the adobe.com web site to determine whether the additional functionality of the Professional edition has sufficient value to warrant the additional cost.
Another OCR program sometimes bundled with a scanner is OmniPage. The author found that OmniPage performed a better job of OCR than Acrobat Professional. OmniPage Professional currently costs $499 and the standard version of OmniPage costs $149. Take a look at nuance.com for a comparison of the Standard versus Professional versions of OmniPage.
The author currently uses Acrobat Professional to read documents, bookmark documents, and search documents and OmniPage Professional to OCR documents, because of the superior results. In the latest version of Acrobat (8.x), the OCR function has significantly closed the OCR gap with OmniPage, even though its current version (15.x) appears to have improved as well. In tests the author recently performed, however, OmniPage’s OCR results were still better than Acrobat OCR on scans of poor-quality images, so the author will continue to use OmniPage for OCR most of the time.
The benefit of OCR does not end here. Suppose one is reviewing all of the promissory notes and mortgages in a package of loans. If all of the loans were made by the same lender that had its own standard form, after reviewing the first note and mortgage, one can use Acrobat’s document comparison feature (not available in the Reader version) to identify all of the differences in the notes and mortgages of all the other loans in the package by producing a marked copy of each other note and mortgage against the base copies that have been thoroughly reviewed. Even though the OCR process is not perfect, it is so good with OmniPage that the Adobe Acrobat document comparison feature can save great amounts of time. This process will be more successful in finding subtle differences in the documents that could have a material effect than by multiple people reading each set of documents from beginning to end.
Another advantage of using PDF over paper versions of documents is disaster recovery. If there is any need to retain copies of documents reviewed in the due diligence process, storing paper copies in an office or off-site storage location subjects the entire collection to loss in a disaster. Electronic copies can easily be stored in multiple locations for easy recovery in case of a disaster.
When transmitting PDF files, one issue that comes up on a regular basis is the inability of very large files to successfully get through various e-mail filters and size limitations. For example, an e-mail provider may impose a 10-megabyte limitation on the size of attachments to one e-mail message. Acrobat (but not the Reader version) enables the user to easily split files into multiple parts without the need for re-scanning. Acrobat (again not including the free Reader version) has routines that will remove a lot of unnecessary space from a PDF file. This may eliminate the need for splitting some files.
It is important to add that Acrobat (again not the free Reader version) provides enhanced note-making functionality.
Both Acrobat and OmniPage have many additional features not discussed here, and they may be covered in future columns. There is an extensive list of such features at the adobe.com and nuance.com web sites, some of which are very significant.
As noted above, the free Reader version of Acrobat does not perform many of the functions necessary to make a paperless review superior to the old standby of reviewing traditional paper documents. As explained above, there is an expense to obtain the needed features, but that expense is an excellent investment for any lawyer who reviews documents prepared by others on a regular basis.