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When a major software company offers features that appeal directly to the legal community, it makes me happy. Version 8 of Adobe Acrobat blasted on the scene recently with some tasty ingredients that appeal directly to legal professionals, such as form field recognition, a “true” redaction tool and a Bates numbering wizard.

Obviously, Acrobat users from all walks of life can benefit from the new features, but legal practitioners are sure to gain the most from the improved software.

Right off the bat, everyone benefits from the cleaned-up user interface in Acrobat 8. Gone is the default taskpane on the right (you can turn it back on if you prefer), and the bookmark/page tabs on the left are scaled down a bit.

I applaud Adobe on improving the file menu structure. When I used Acrobat 7, it always took me a while to figure out where to find a button or feature (why is the “highlight” button always buried?). But the menus in Acrobat 8 are more intuitive, and the whole experience is cleaner.

I also appreciate the initial splash screen when you launch Acrobat 8. The “Getting Started” window has big, bright buttons that volunteer common tasks such as “Create PDF,” “Combine Files” or “Export” PDF files to other formats. You can turn this screen off, but it’s very helpful in providing tips on specific activities.

One of the most impressive new features in Acrobat 8 is the built-in redaction tool. There have been some high-profile stories where people have tried to “redact” PDF files by simply drawing black boxes over text, or by changing the color of their font to match the background of their document. The underlying text was plainly viewable by anyone who simply copied the text and pasted it into a Word or text document.

Third-party software vendors have attempted to address this gaping hole of ignorance, and one of the most popular products has been Redax from Appligent Inc.

Obviously not content to stay out of the redaction market, Adobe included its own tool in Acrobat 8. I was impressed with how simple the process was, and appreciated that Acrobat 8 took the extra step to examine my document for additional information that should be removed.

The first step in redacting within Acrobat is to select the text you want to be blacked out (or yellowed-out depending upon which color you select in the Properties pane). Then you select “Mark for Redaction.” You’re then free to select other items in the document and mark them appropriately. At the end of your text-hunting, you simply click “Apply Redactions.”

At this point, several dire warnings pop up telling you the dangers of what you’re about to do. Acrobat 8 literally scrapes the underlying text out of the document that you’re working on, so Acrobat warns you to save your document under another name so that your original will be left intact. At that point, you’ll have two files — your original and a redacted copy. (Read another perspective on this process www.acrobatusers.com/ blogs/duffjohnson/2006/11/16/cut-it-out-redacting-with-acrobat-8/.)

Once your select text is scrubbed away, Acrobat then asks if you would like to search the document for any other information that could expose your deep, dark secrets. Acrobat searches for items like metadata, file attachments, hidden text, bookmarks and embedded search indexes; and then asks if you want those items scrubbed away too. (You can also launch this “Examine Document” window from the file menu.)

The second impressive feature in Acrobat 8 for legal professionals is the new “Bates Numbering” tool. The first step is to select all the documents that you’re interested in Bates labeling. Then Acrobat’s Header & Footer dialog box appears allowing you to format the font of the Bates label, select the prefix to use and adjust the margins appropriately to hold your Bates numbers.

The tool worked beautifully in my tests. Bravo to Adobe for finally including this simple and incredible functionality directly within Acrobat. Third parties, such as CaseSoft and CaseMap, available at www.casesoft.com/casemap/ casemap.aspfrom), have offered an add-on utility to do this for some time now, but I am encouraged to see Adobe build it directly into Acrobat.

For several versions now, Acrobat has allowed users to conveniently combine multiple PDF files together. The big news in Acrobat 8 is that you now have the ability to select specific pages of individual files when you combine them together. So if you’re combining a Microsoft Word document with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, you can choose to take only specific worksheets from the Excel document.

A new, but similar feature in Acrobat 8 is something called “Create PDF Package.” This is almost identical to the “Combine PDF” command; except that PDF packages can contain PDF files with embedded digital signatures and Create PDF Package does a better job of retaining each file’s individual properties (the Combine PDF feature destroys the digital signatures of individual files).

Adobe points out that the “Create PDF Package” is a great way to create Real Estate Closing Binders, Trial Notebooks and Forms Libraries. I happen to agree with them and I am again thrilled that Adobe obviously had the legal world in mind when it included this feature.

In a related note, Acrobat 8 also allows you to create a PDF file from a blank page. I realize that doesn’t sound very exciting, but it’s a new function that did not exist before. This can be used to create cover pages for your PDF packages, or you can easily create dividers to separate documents.

One other area of Acrobat 8 that enjoyed a lot of improvements is working with forms. First, Acrobat can now recognize form fields. So if you receive or scan in a form with fields that are not “fill-outable,” you can have Acrobat recognize the document and make those fields active for text entry.

Once you have an active form, you can distribute it to the necessary recipients, including those with only the Adobe Reader. The Reader portion is significant since those folks did not have the ability before to complete a form with the application and return it to you. They had to re-save the form and usually send it back by fax or snail-mail.

With Acrobat 8, Adobe made the generous decision to open up Adobe Reader just a little more to allow those users to complete the form within the Reader application, and return it to you with a click of the button. Adobe Reader users can also save a copy of the completed form to their own computers. All of this functionality is toggled on and off when you create the original PDF in a full version of Adobe Acrobat and decide to share it.

I am thrilled with the new features found in Adobe Acrobat 8. It’s obvious that Adobe took some time to listen to the suggestions from many customers, including those of us in the legal world. The redaction and Bates numbering tools alone are worth the upgrade, but the cleaner interface and additional functionalities make it a no-brainer for law firms that use PDF files every day.

And if you needed one more reason, Adobe Acrobat 8 now connects directly into the Acrobat Connect service (the old Macromedia Breeze product) that allows you to dynamically share documents with others over the Internet.

Burney is the legal practice support coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland.

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