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If you practice law and use a computer, you must know how to create PDF files. Or at least you should know. The format is fast-becoming ubiquitous in the legal industry. PDF stands for Portable Document Format. It’s an “open file format specification” developed by Adobe Systems Inc. several years ago as a standard for distributing electronic documents. The format has become popular mainly because of its universality. A PDF file created on a Windows computer looks exactly the same on a Mac. Plus you don’t have to worry about what software is installed on the computer systems because anyone can view a PDF courtesy of the free Adobe Reader, which is available for just about every operating system. In addition, PDF files can be locked down and secured, preventing them from being modified. For these two reasons, among others, the format has been adopted as the standard for electronic filing in the U.S. Federal Courts’ CM/ECF system (Case Management/Electronic Case Files). And many other government agencies are following the court system’s lead and accepting PDF forms and filings. WHAT IT CAN DO FOR YOU For folks who are new to the idea of a PDF, or just in need of more information, I would highly recommend “Adobe Acrobat for Lawyers” from “ Ernie the Attorney,” though it’s not completely up-to-date, and “Putting PDF and Adobe Acrobat into Your Tech Toolbox,” by Dennis Kennedy. PUBLISHING VS. CREATING Portable Document Format is a “publishing” standard. By contrast, word processors are “creation” methods. You use an application like Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect to create a document by authoring text, inserting images, and applying headers. Then instead of physically printing the document, you can “print” it to a PDF file. Printing to PDF essentially accomplishes the same thing as a physical printout, but it keeps the file in electronic form so that you can e-mail it or post it to the Web. When you “publish” your Word or WordPerfect document to PDF, you can be assured that everyone will be able to view it exactly as you intended, regardless of what computing platform or software they use. You can even search the text of most PDF files and add “bookmarks” and electronic sticky notes. For all of these reasons, a PDF file is a wonderful way to distribute documents to other people. I’ve generated bookmarked PDF files as electronic-binders on CDs in lieu of burdening a client with a hulking three-ringer binder. I also use the Portable Document Format as a way to archive Web pages that I can’t trust will be around in the future. PDFs also allow you to certify files through the incorporation of digital signatures. PRINT TO PDF PDF files are most commonly generated by the method discussed above — an application “prints” to a PDF file. In order to do that, however, you’ll need to have a PDF printer driver installed. Unfortunately, the free Adobe Reader is only a viewer for PDF files and does not give you the capability to create PDFs. To do this, you need the full version of Adobe Acrobat, which starts at $299. Fortunately, because Adobe is gracious enough to openly license the PDF specification, there are several alternatives to the full version of Acrobat available on the market today. Nothing else is going to give you the same grid of features that the full version of Acrobat does in the areas of digital signatures and document customization, but if all you need is a quick, easy, and affordable way to create PDF files at your office from applications like Microsoft Word, then you should definitely consider one of the alternatives below. FACTORY-MADE PDFs One of the best alternatives to a full version of Acrobat is pdfFactory from FinePrint Software. The standard version of pdfFactory costs $49.95 and lets you create and combine PDF files. The Pro version doubles the price, at $99.95, but you get double the features in the areas of security and bookmark creation. After installation, pdfFactory appears in your list of printers. When you print from a Word document, you simply select the pdfFactory printer and hit OK. Within a few seconds, the main panel of pdfFactory appears. You see a preview of your document as a PDF on the right, with a bookmark panel on the left. At the top of the window are several tabs for fonts, security (in the Pro version), links and other settings. Each of these tabs gives you power over how your final PDF will look and act. For example, you can dictate the magnification level at which the PDF will open when someone clicks it, and what toolbars they will be able to see. You can also determine a standard format for all of the hyperlinks in the PDF. If you leave pdfFactory open, you “print” other documents to the same job, and then delete or move pages as necessary. One other thing I like about pdfFactory is that it tells you the size of your PDF file right in the title bar. When you’re done you can save your final PDF or send it by e-mail straight from the main panel. I believe pdfFactory Pro is the best alternative to having a full version of Adobe Acrobat on your system, and it costs $200 less. For only $99.95, you get most of the functionality you’ll ever need when you create PDF files. CUTE AS A BUTTON On the other end of the spectrum, if you just want a quick and simple method to convert your electronic documents to PDF and don’t need any other functions, you could go with the free CutePDF Writer. CutePDF installs itself as a printer as well, so you simply select it and hit print. The only other dialog box you’ll get is from Windows asking where you want the final PDF saved. You have no other options for making changes to your PDF. It’s possible that you will have to download a converter utility to get CutePDF to work right, but it should not be a problem. The instructions and information are available on the homepage. Oh, did I mention it’s free? DO IT ONLINE One last option for creating PDF files from your electronic documents is to do it through an online service. I don’t necessarily recommend this method if you need to have direct control over your PDF creation process, but an online service can certainly come in handy if you find yourself in a pinch, or if you’re on someone else’s computer. With an online service, you work on your document locally on a computer and save it there. When you’re ready to convert it to PDF, go to online service’s Web site and upload your document. You will receive your PDF as an e-mail attachment. One service is from Adobe themselves located at Create Adobe PDF Online. The service is not free — it costs $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year, with your first five file conversions free as part of the trial period. Another service is sponsored by BCL Technologies, which offers its own line of PDF conversion tools. The online service site is called PDFonline.com. It converts your files for free (2MB limit). BCL apparently figures that the exposure it gets from offering the free service drives enough traffic to its site to make it worthwhile. KEEP PDF’N Adobe has established PDF as a de facto standard for document publishing and distribution. The PDF has even been hailed as the catalyst for achieving the paperless office. Although I know a handful of attorneys that have actually achieved paperless nirvana through PDF (David Masters is probably the best example), I suspect that the legal world is not quite ready for that switch on a wholesale level. But when institutions like the U.S. Federal Court system start requiring documents electronically filed as PDFs, then you know it’s not going away anytime soon. All of us would do well to familiarize ourselves with the Portable Document Format and prepare for its continual rise in importance. Brett Burney is the legal practice support coordinator at Thompson Hine, in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Law Technology News, and a frequent contributor to the magazine. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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