March 22, 2019 Technology

TAPAs: Adobe Acrobat PDF Power User Tips

By Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

The Portable Document Format, or PDF, is one of the most popular file formats in law practice. No matter what kind of desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile device you use, the PDF works. No matter what operating system you have or how many different fonts or images, it still works. The highly compressed nature of a PDF file means it is easy to e-mail, download, and print. If you create, send, or view PDFs on a regular basis, or you have ever found yourself at a loss for how to edit, encrypt, or export one, hopefully the following tips will assist you.

Tip 1: There’s more than one way to skin a cat . . . and convert a file to PDF.

As Charles Kingsley indicated in his 1855 novel Westward Ho!, “[t]here are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream.” By no means do we encourage harm to animals (even when Ashley loses sleep over the cicadas her Niko and Deja bring in), it is simply a way of stating there are more ways than one for achieving your aims. In this instance, you can convert a file from its native format (Word, Excel, etc.) into a PDF document a multitude of ways, including:

1. From within the open file. In Microsoft Excel and Word, you can go to File > Export and select the option to “Create PDF/XPS Document.”

2. In any file, open the printer dialog box and choose to print to your PDF software.

  Exporting to PDF

Exporting to PDF

  Printing to PDF

Printing to PDF

3. If you are using Adobe Acrobat, open your PDF software, either from the menu bar anchored at the top or in the File menu, go to Create > PDF from File, then a dialog box will open allowing you to navigate to the file where you can create your PDF.

4. Drag the file icon over to the Adobe PDF icon and drop it on there; it will automatically convert the file to a PDF.

You can also print the file and then scan it into a PDF document, although this may waste more paper than necessary.

Tip 2: Set up form fields within the PDF that anyone can fill in without changing the rest of the document.

With Adobe Acrobat you can set up form fields that allow text to be added by anyone with access to the PDF. Each form can then have its own specific criteria: number, date, multiple-choice answers, etc. Your existing forms can be converted and easily set up, allowing others to complete information digitally and send it back faster. As an example of how to create a fillable form, if you have Adobe Acrobat XI Pro, all you need to do is convert your word document form into a PDF. Then open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat and look to the tools menu on the right side of the window. Click the arrow next to “Forms” to open the Forms Menu options and choose “Create.” This will open up a wizard that will guide you through converting your PDF into a fillable form.

  Creating fillable fields in a PDF

Creating fillable fields in a PDF

Tip 3: Collaborate on a PDF document by adding annotations, edits, or comments.

When you create a PDF document, you can allow other users to contribute annotations or comments, or suggest edits. To do so, select the text you would like to comment on, then right-click for options such as Add Sticky Note to Replace Text, Edit Text or Images, Add Bookmark, and more.

Tip 4: You can combine multiple files into a PDF document without printing and scanning them together.

Sometimes the easiest way to combine multiple files into one cohesive whole is to save them all together in a single PDF. To do this in Adobe Acrobat, click on File > Create > Combine Files into a Single PDF. You may also do this by selecting Create from the menu bar anchored at the top.

Combining multiple files into one PDF

Combining multiple files into one PDF

Tip 5: Familiarize yourself with the Protection Features in Adobe Acrobat.

Adobe Acrobat Professional has a host of tools for protecting the data in your documents. To view, go to the Tools menu anchored on the right side of the window, click the arrow next to “Protection,” and you will find a variety of options, including:

  • Restrict Editing: Allows you to add a password to limit who may edit the document.
  • Encrypt: Allows you to encrypt the document with a certificate or password, or manage your security policies. Encrypting the document with a certificate means the user will need to have access to a specific private key to access the document. Encrypting with a password means the user will simply need the password to open the document.
  • Mark for Redaction: Allows you to mark content to be permanently blacked out, removing sensitive information. Redaction is a two-step process: First you will go through and mark content for redaction, then you will need to select “Apply Redactions.” It is important to keep in mind that redactions are not applied permanently until you select “Apply Redactions.”
Protection features in Acrobat

Protection features in Acrobat

These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended). There is more to Adobe Acrobat that makes it a vital tool to have on your belt. More important than having the tool is understanding how to use it.

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Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA (particularly in the GPSolo and Senior Lawyers Divisions), the California State Bar Association and the Alameda County Bar Association. A frequent speaker on technology topics, he is Editor-in-Chief of GPSolo magazine and GPSolo eReport. He serves as an editor and the technology columnist for Experience Magazine and has served on the Board of Editors of the ABA Journal. He also serves on the ABA’s Standing Committee on Information Technology. Recently, he coauthored (with Ashley Hallene) Technology Solutions for Today's Lawyer and iPad for Lawyers: The Tools You Need at Your Fingertips. In addition to being licensed as an attorney in California, he has been admitted as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. He teaches at California State University of the East Bay. He may be reached at


Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She maintains a diverse solo practice on the side. Ashley is the coauthor of the technology overview Making Technology Work for You (A Guide for Solo and Small Firm Attorneys) along with attorney Jeffrey Allen. She has published articles on legal technology in GPSolo Magazine, GPSolo eReport, and the TechnoLawyer Newsletter. Ashley is an active member of the American Bar Association’s General Practice Solo & Small Firm Division, ABA’s Young Lawyers Division, the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the Houston Young Lawyers Association, and the Houston Association of Petroleum Landmen. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport. She may be reached at