Jan/Feb 2002

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Technology In Practice

Feature By Simon Chester

Adobe Acrobat 5.0: Why Should You Buy?

Capture the exact look of originals in PDF files. The alchemy makes reading, searching, printing and distributing documents to clients and colleagues so much easier.

Most lawyers already have Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on their hard drives. Acrobat lets users open documents in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF)Ñthe almost universal standard for ensuring that a document can be viewed and printed in a consistent way, regardless of the computer system used. Opinions of the Supreme Court look exactly like the printed originals. Newsletters can be distributed electronically and printed locally. And downloading the free Adobe Reader software is so easy that most of us could not remember exactly when and how we acquired it.

Why should a law office pay money for the new Adobe Acrobat 5.0 when the Adobe Reader is so widely, and freely, available? For me, there are three primary reasons. Rather than simply list the features, let me tell three stories. Each involves friends from the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section.

Compact Format and Universal Accessibility

Five years ago, I ran into Mathew Diamond at Comdex, where he was speaking about the potential of CD-ROMs for publishing conference materials. The ABA TECHSHOW™ needed to reduce its three volumes of materials, intimidatingly phonebook size.

But the materials had been produced in a wide variety of formats and programs. How could consistency of readability be achieved? The answer lay in Adobe Acrobat and its ability to capture MS Word files, PowerPoint documents, Web pages and WordPerfect files in a standard format for reading, searching and printing. PDF documents preserve the exact look and content of the originals, complete with fonts and graphics, and can be printed, distributed by e-mail, and shared and stored on the Web, an intranet, a file system or a CD-ROM for other users to view.

Mathew convinced me, and the TECHSHOW management team, that publishing the CD using Acrobat was the way to achieve universal accessibility.

How difficult was it to achieve the conversion? What sort of alchemy was required to move from one native format into the common standard of compact, searchable PDF? After installing Acrobat, a small toolbar was added to my major applications–the Acrobat Distiller that permitted conversion. Later, I discovered that it was as easy to select the Distiller as a printer choice. Printing to it was like printing to any other device. But the output appeared a few seconds later as a fully functional PDF file.

Is this relevant to a law firm? Absolutely. Lawyers are as much publishers as consumers of documents. In collaborating with or sending information to clients, colleagues or potential marketing targets, we all benefit from the standardized format. And I can send recipients the URL to download Adobe’s free Reader software. The copyright lawyer in me likes the way in which I can set the document properties to permit the documents to be viewed, but I can decide if I don’t want them to be editable, or capable of being copied or printed.

Litigation Support, with Full-Text Searching

The scourge of major litigation cases is the need to handle massive quantities of documents. When Colorado litigator John Tredennick started building large-scale litigation databases, he faced the problems of scanning and coding documents that came in from clients by the barrel-full.

Searching was problematic, and full-text searching was only available if the client’s word-processed documents could be loaded into a database management system. Acrobat became key to state-of-the-art litigation support, because it offered a format in which digital files could become standardized in format, yet preserve their original look and feel. The files are compressed, so that there is a space saving that can mount up with large document populations.

Better still, the documents can be captured in ways that ensure that there is no risk of inadvertent change. Once within Acrobat, it is possible to lock the text, through password security, in ways that prohibit amendments, copying or even printing. Readers can annotate the documents using highlighters, bookmarks or yellow tags, which will not affect the document when printed.

Indexing requires using a Catalog feature, which builds an entire inverted file index, permitting full-text searching. On my notebook computer, the response time is a couple of seconds to search through 3,000 pages of text. It is not exactly Westlaw speed, but it leaves Microsoft’s standard search features in the dust.

For a litigator, this feature alone is worth acquiring Acrobat.

Web Site Capture, with Hyperlinks

Lastly, there is Web capture. In late 2000, I spoke at the first Asian conference on law and technology, held in Singapore. Reviewing my final presentation the night before I spoke, I realized that I wanted to demonstrate the look and features of a number of legal Web sites. The conference couldn’t offer live Web access. I had high-speed access in my room, but I couldn’t capture Web sites, except as individual JPEGs and GIFs, stitched together with pieces of HTML code. Ross Kodner (TECHSHOW’s "King of Gadgets") saved me by screen-capturing sites and then e-mailing the pictures to me from his hotel room. The route between our two rooms in the Pan Pacific Hotel lay through his home server 12,000 miles away. It did the job, but it took hours.

This morning I write this on my notebook looking out over the Scottish Coast. I have no Web access, but having installed Adobe Acrobat 5.0, I have deployed its ability to capture sites complete with hypertext links. Capturing is simply a question of pasting the URL into a form and indicating how many layers deep you wish to capture the site. The result is not a Web site, but an exact reproduction, sitting on a hard drive. It is searchable at very high speed and will print exactly like a Web site.

The potential is not just capturing one particular Web site. I have found that saving URLs into an MS Word document as hyperlinks (Control-K) and then saving the entire document into HTML gives me a file that can be captured as if my list of links were itself a Web site. Today, I have to work on a brief, so I have downloaded a couple of government sites, together with a bundle of opinions and statutes. For lawyers on the road, the feature is invaluable.

A Gem of a Solution

All in all, the software works flawlessly. With list prices starting at $249 (and upgrades at $99), is it worth the cost? I think so. Adobe Acrobat 5 really has no competition.

Remember, lawyers are producers as well as consumers of legal information. Since Adobe PDF has successfully emerged as the standard format for easy document production and distribution, every law office should have at least one copy of Acrobat 5.0 to serve the needs of the legal team. Indeed, given the pervasive reach of Adobe PDF, it may be a logical, if pricey, purchase for home use as well.

Simon Chester ( is a partner with the KNOWlaw Group at Toronto law firm McMillan Binch. He is a member of the Law Practice Management editorial board.

For more details on Adobe Acrobat 5.0, go to And direct clients and colleagues to the site for the free Reader download.

Also, read how courts are accepting PDFs for e-filings in the April 2001 issue of Law Practice Management