Today’s legal professionals need to do all they can to increase efficiency. In a study by Altman Weil, 30 percent of the attorneys surveyed said they are reengineering their work processes in an effort to make gains on efficiency. Many of those work processes include sharing and working with documents, whether it be reading, editing or searching for information.
Most everyone is familiar with PDFs as a form of “digital paper.” PDFs replicate paper in every way, preserving a document’s fonts, formatting, colors and graphics. But PDFs can do more than just mimic paper documents. Here’s a look at six tips on how to go beyond the PDF basics.
Document conversion. A common frustration among legal professionals is spending too much time re-creating PDF documents – especially when it comes to converting them to Microsoft Word. For example, imagine you just received a new contract from another firm via email and need to make some changes. It takes the average office worker more than 10 minutes to type a full page of text. PDF converter capabilities allow you to avoid having to re-create this document from scratch in Microsoft Word so you can get to the editing task at hand.
Improving legal workflows. PDF software can be a powerful tool in streamlining your common paper-based workflows. By going beyond just viewing PDF files and knowing how to manipulate PDFs can help you shed your reliance on paper. Developing the ability to find and gain control of information inside any PDF can help you realize the benefits of today’s digital technologies.
Redact confidential information. Attorneys frequently deal with sensitive information and often have to produce documents that obscure sensitive information. Some lawyers have made the mistake of attempting to cover up sensitive information by using a drawing markup tool, such as a rectangle with solid fill. That’s a path to redaction failure. The only way to do redaction is with a redaction tool, commonly found in PDF software. These tools don’t just cover up text or images; they replace the selected areas pixel by pixel with redaction fill. Note: you should probably also save a copy of the original PDF as part of your routine workflow. You will need a copy of the unmarked version if your claim of privilege is later deemed improper.
Form creation. Lawyers and courts produce a constant stream of paper. Evidence, statements, records, expert opinions and legal documents must be processed and securely archived. PDF forms can help reduce this workload considerably, especially as PDF has become the file format of choice for sharing and archiving legal documentation. Instead of sending paper documents or PDFs back and forth for printing, the client completes a PDF form. The law firm then exports the form data and reimports it into other documents such as representations, expert opinions, comments or statements. PDF forms eliminate intermediate steps and speed up communication between client and counsel. The forms also reduce the likelihood of errors, which is a huge advantage, particularly in firms where deadlines can’t be moved.
Certificate-based signatures. What happens when you are out of town and someone emails you a document that needs to be signed right away? If you don’t have access to a printer, signing on paper can be pretty hard. With PDF software, documents can be signed with a digital ID, which approximately corresponds to a signature on a paper document. If unauthorized changes are made to a document after it has been signed, the digital signature becomes invalid. Typically, for the purpose of creating the signature, users can either use an existing digital ID or create their own identity.
Protect against unauthorized access. PDF files are potentially more secure than paper documents – if you apply security to them. For instance, you can prevent someone from opening a PDF. Let’s say you want to send a confidential document to a client by email but aren’t sure whether another person may have access to the recipient’s email program. You can set a document open password to prevent the PDF from being opened without the password; then call the recipient to provide the password. To ensure that protected files cannot be read by an unauthorized person, files must be encrypted. However, even if the highest level of encryption is required, problems can still occur, as the encryption may not be recognized by older PDF applications.
Identifying ways you can go beyond PDF basic access and viewing can bring measurable ways to improve document productivity and security in legal workflows.
Jeff Segarra is the senior director of Product Marketing for the Nuance Document Imaging Division in Burlington, Mass. He is responsible for the global team that delivers industry product positioning, messaging and content. He speaks and writes about business process improvement, the Internet of Things, document security, document conversion technologies and personal productivity.
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