Adobe Acrobat Performs Tricks That Helps Lawyers Exchange Documents and File Electronically

by Steve Scott

Most lawyers who use the Internet regularly have probably encountered PDF ("Portable Document Format") files and downloaded the Acrobat Reader program to view and print them. Because of electronic filing requirements in the United States District Court and Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Missouri, more lawyers are now becoming interested in how to create PDF files.

Invented in 1993 by Adobe Systems Incorporated, the Portable Document Format allows anyone to view and print a document exactly as it was created without needing to have the program or fonts used to create it. PDF files preserve the appearance of the original document, including layout, fonts, colors and images.

These characteristics have resulted in PDF becoming an Internet standard for the dissemination of documents. For instance, the Internal Revenue Service makes forms and publications available as PDF files, and the Missouri Secretary of State uses PDF files for the on-line version of the Code of State Regulations.

If a lawyer simply wants to view and print PDF files, the free Adobe Acrobat Reader program can be downloaded from many sources, including the Adobe Systems' website at

However, creating PDF files requires the full Adobe Acrobat program, Version 5 of which has just been released by Adobe. While the retail price is $249, Adobe makes Acrobat available to lawyers who need it for court-required electronic filing at the discounted price of $120. Call Adobe at 888-502-5275 to place an order. Lawyers who have had Version 4 of Acrobat for a while can upgrade to Version 5 for $99. Acrobat is shipped on CD-ROM and usually arrives within three to five business days.

When Acrobat is installed, it creates two new printer drivers (PDF Writer and Distiller). These printer drivers allow any program to create a PDF file by simply selecting one of the drivers as the output destination in the program's print dialog. Acrobat also installs special macros to allow some programs, such as Microsoft Word, to generate PDF files directly from the file menu. If a scanner is properly installed, a scan can be initiated within Acrobat to create a PDF file from a paper document. These capabilities allow lawyers to create PDF files that will meet court requirements for electronic filing.

Lawyers should be aware when using Acrobat to create PDF files that there are some differences between PDF Writer and Distiller. PDF Writer is somewhat faster, creates smaller PDF files, and presents an option to save the file in a folder selected at the time of "printing" the file to disk. However, PDF Writer files do not preserve text flow as accurately as Distiller. On the other hand, Distiller is somewhat slower, always saves its files in one designated folder, and creates larger PDF files that usually preserve text flow more accurately. Because both PDF Writer and Distiller can change text flow slightly when a PDF file is created, Adobe recommends that either PDF Writer or Distiller be selected as the output destination of a file when beginning to create the file.

A valuable feature of Acrobat for lawyers is the ability to create forms that can be filled in and then printed. For example, many of the tax forms available at the IRS website are "fillable" PDF forms. Using the full Acrobat program, a lawyer can fill out such a form on screen, save the completed form to disk with a unique file name, and print the form. Forms also can be filled out in the free Acrobat Reader program, but the filled-out form cannot be saved. Detailed instructions for creating and filling out fillable forms are contained in the Acrobat Guide (a PDF file itself), which is accessible from Acrobat's help menu.

Another potentially valuable feature of PDF files in the practice of law is the fact that it is difficult for a recipient to make changes in a PDF file, which allows a lawyer to retain control over revisions.

Lawyers with minimal needs for creation of PDF files may find that PDF-generation capabilities built into some other programs are sufficient. For example, WordPerfect 9 (part of the WordPerfect Suite 2000) can create PDF files from WordPerfect documents. Also, it has been reported that several bankruptcy-filing programs have been upgraded to include the ability to create PDF files directly.

PDF has become the "Lingua Franca" of documents in the electronic age, and all law offices should consider how to become fluent in creating and viewing PDF files.

Steve Scott is a solo general practitioner in Columbia, who has been interested for many years in applying technology to make law practice more efficient.