April 03, 2019

Product Review

David L. Masters


This reviewer has long been an advocate of Adobe Acrobat software. The release of Acrobat X, also known as version 10, gives no cause to reconsider. Acrobat remains the best way to work with Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Acrobat X marks a significant upgrade of this indispensable application.

Portable Document Format has become the standard for filing and exchanging documents in the legal setting, in part because PDF files can be read on a variety of devices, from Macs to PCs to iPads. In addition to near-universal compatibility, PDF offers security. With Acrobat you can easily secure PDF files to prevent tampering. Think about that 50-page contract you sent to your client. Wouldn’t you like to retain control over that work product? Thought so. Or what about the balance sheet for your firm that you sent via electronic mail to your banker; can just anyone view it? Hope not.

Acrobat X comes in two varieties: Standard and Pro; Acrobat X Suite would be overkill for most legal professionals. Acrobat Pro and Standard are not to be confused with the Adobe Reader, which continues to be available for free. Reader users are limited to viewing, searching, and printing PDF files. You need a full version of Acrobat (Standard or Professional) to create PDF files, scan paper to PDF, apply security, create forms, and much more. Which Acrobat is right for legal professionals? It depends (a lawyerly answer), but you should consider Pro rather than Standard. It comes down to features. The features that matter to lawyers and that are available only with Acrobat Pro include:

  • Bates numbering;
  • Redaction;
  • PDF Portfolios;
  • Enable Reader users to add comments and digitally signatures; and
  • Compare PDF files.

A feature comparison chart is available at the adobe website.

You can upgrade from Acrobat 7, 8, or 9 to Acrobat X Standard for $139, and to Acrobat X Pro for $199; purchased new (without an upgrade), the cost is $199 for standard and $499 for Pro. You also can download a fully functional version of Acrobat X Pro to test-drive for free.

Adobe made big changes to the Acrobat X interface. The menus have been pared down to File, Edit, View, Window, and Help. New control panels have been added on the right side of the screen for Tools, Comment, and Share. The control panels can be displayed or hidden.

The Tools panel. This grouping contains many of the prior Document menu functions: Pages (Rotate, Replace, Extract, etc.) and Recognize Text (Optical Character Recognition). Forms, Security, and the Action Wizard (formerly “batch processing”) can also be found in the Tools panel.

The Comment panel. This set replaces the Comment & Markup choice on the Tools menu in earlier versions. Now all the annotation and drawing markup tools are within easy reach. Using the Sticky Note tool for adding comments to PDF files is easier than handwriting a Post-It note (and you’ll be able to read the Sticky Note without wondering about the decreasing legibility of your writing). You might look at the Drawing Markup tools and wonder why a lawyer would use the Polygon tool. Well, when it comes to drawing boundaries on a map or plat, nothing works better. The Comments List is now accessed through this panel rather than by an icon in the lower left of the screen. If any comments (text boxes, call-outs, sticky notes, or drawing markups) have been added to a PDF file, they will show up in the Comments List.

The Share panel. This panel makes sharing easier than ever. Acrobat X includes a direct link to SendNow, an easy-to-use service for sending large files to other users. You can try SendNow for free, but a basic plan costs $9.99 per month (comparable to YouSendIt Pro). Alternatively, the Share panel makes it easy to attach the open file to an electronic mail message. Acrobat X provides one-click access to Acrobat.com and Adobe Connect. Acrobat.com provides a secure space for sharing all kinds of files with clients and opposing counsel. Adobe Connect provides a web-conferencing application for online meetings. If you have ever attended an online meeting or webinar, you can appreciate the power of being able to use these technologies in your practice.

The big changes to the Acrobat X interface, while good, come at a cost. It’s not as easy to customize the toolbars as it was in earlier versions. No more right-clicking in the toolbar area and selecting “more tools.” Now, for example, to add the Marquee Zoom tool to the toolbar, you pull down the View menu, select Show/Hide, select Toolbar Items, chose Select & Zoom, and select Marquee Zoom. Other tools, say the Polygon Drawing Markup tool, are added to the toolbar by using the Customize Quick Tools (View > Show/Hide > Toolbar Items > Quick Tools). The customization seems more difficult than necessary, but you only need to do it once (or very infrequently).

Acrobat X ships with the “Create” button as the first item on the toolbar. The Create button includes all the functionality it had in the past and adds the functions that were formerly found on the drop-down menu of the Combine button. In Acrobat X, the Create button offers not only the usual methods of creating a PDF file (from file, scanner, etc.) but also offers the option to combine multiple files into a single PDF or, in Pro, to create a “PDF Portfolio.” A PDF Portfolio contains multiple files assembled into an integrated PDF unit, rather than a single PDF file. The files in a PDF Portfolio can be created in different applications. For example, a PDF Portfolio can include word-processing files, spreadsheets, images, and PowerPoint presentations. The original files retain their individual identities but are assembled into one PDF Portfolio file. You can open, read, edit, and format each component file independently of the other component files. But PDF Portfolios are not for everyone; Acrobat Standard and Adobe Reader users cannot create PDF Portfolios or edit the layout, colors, headers, and so on.

In my practice we combine multiple files into a single PDF rather than create PDF Portfolios. Combined files work well for assembling a pleading or motion and all the referenced exhibits or authorities, or for combining disparate documents for disclosure or production in discovery.

But what if you don’t want one big PDF file? Acrobat X allows you to “split” a file based on: (1) number of pages; (2) file size; or (3) top-level bookmarks. If you have a combined PDF file that weighs in at 5.5 MB, and the limit for electronic filing in your jurisdiction is 2 MB, it’s easy to split the file into pieces that are under the limit. If opposing counsel or your client delivered a 5,000-page PDF file, it’s easy to add bookmarks during the initial review, then split the document based on the marks (bookmark names can be used as the split file names).

Acrobat began shipping with a Typewriter tool several versions ago. Earlier iterations of this tool had much in common with its namesake. It was clunky, and the functionality was limited. Acrobat X significantly improves on the functionality of the Typewriter tool. Justification, line spacing, font size and color, all work as expected. The ability to easily “type” on any PDF file significantly extends the range of Acrobat. Think of the forms you fill in during the course of a week or a month. Now, instead of feeding sheets of paper into the old Selectric, you feed the paper through the scanner, then use Acrobat and your computer to do the typing (sans White-Out).

In closing, version X marks a significant upgrade in the Acrobat family history. Whether or not you skipped the last version or two, Acrobat X should be on your shopping list.

Related: Acrobat X for the Mac

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