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You just found out the defendant removed your personal injury case to federal court. Next, you receive an order that requires e-filing unless the court allows an exemption for undue burden. Your firm is not set up to file court documents electronically and you begin to think about drafting a hardship motion to avoid the order. Here’s a better idea. Get equipped to e-file by learning to create PDF (portable document format) files. You can create a PDF file from a text file (i.e., Word) on your computer or by scanning a paper document, such as a medical record. Generally, PDF files retain original formatting (text, margins, pagination) that allows others to receive an exact copy. PDF files also can be searched, shared and viewed by others. The current trend is moving toward universal e-filing in PDF in both state and federal court. In state court, e-filing remains optional for select cases, but in federal court it’s nearly mandatory. Federal court requires attorneys to send pleadings on disc in PDF even if they’ve already filed the traditional paper version. So, you might as well start learning to create and use PDF files now. Besides, they can also provide many hidden advantages to benefit your practice. Equipping for e-filing is not difficult. You probably already have the basics needed to e-file, such as a computer with Windows, a text file program (Word), and a suitable Internet connection with e-mail. The only addition you need is the ability to create PDF files. A free PDF reader is available from Adobe and most text file programs will let you convert to PDF as a printing option. Adobe also offers conversion to PDF for $10 per month online at createpdf.adobe.com. However, to obtain the full menu of PDF solutions, you should buy a complete PDF software program, such as the standard or professional version of Adobe 7.0 ($240 to $350 at Amazon.com). There are cheaper alternatives to Adobe’s PDF software, such as Nitro PDF professional ($100), but Adobe is the safest bet. In addition to Adobe 7.0, you should purchase a scanner with PDF capability. Although a scanner isn’t needed for basic e-filing, you will need it for attachments and to convert paper documents (i.e. medical records) to PDF. Scanners able to handle 15 pages per minute go for anywhere from $400 to $800. I have seen good reviews for the Fujitsu ScanSnap sheet fed scanner ($425 at Amazon.com). PC Magazine is also a reliable source for recommendations. To actually e-file, there is a process to follow. For instance, in Connecticut, you have to register to e-file for federal court at United States District Court: District of Connecticut. This allows you to have a password to the Electronic Case Filing System (CM/ECF) where you complete your e-filing through step-by-step prompts. Users must register for state court e-filing at the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch. The respective Web sites provide all of the information you need for e-filing, including a list of technical computer requirements, tutorials, demos, printable manuals, training classes and help numbers. Once you start e-filing, the changes in your practice are immediate. I spoke with a partner at a small litigation firm who started to e-file in a couple of new cases. He commented on how he was already saving copying costs. All the e-filed pleadings (including opposition pleadings) were on his computer. He had paperless files, albeit only for pleadings. With Adobe and a PDF scanner, the whole file — everything from medical records to case law — can be paperless. Everyone in the firm can look at the entire file simultaneously. Once you have a paperless file, if you have a laptop and need to go to court or travel, you can leave behind the file cart, bungee cords and banker’s boxes. If you are tired of finding three-year-old sticky notes on file documents, try reviewing PDF files on your computer while using the “bookmark” function to add personal notes that let you search and organize. If you are tired of the hours it takes to review documents and apply Bates numbering, you can buy a PDF stamping program for under $200 that will electronically add Bates numbering quickly to your PDF files. If you exchange drafts or completed text documents with your opponent via e-mail attachments, converting to PDF can save you embarrassment and take away an advantage that some tech savvy firms currently utilize. Text files contain hidden data about the document known as metadata, which can reveal deletions, edits, the date of creation, author and when the document was last saved. PDF files can eliminate these risks. These are only a few of the many PDF solutions for your practice. Try it out. Of course, you could always work on your hardship motion instead.

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