Moving to a Paperless Law Firm: 3 Tips for Working With PDFs

In the past year, there has been an increased interest in moving to paperless law firms. This is because in many jurisdictions, e-filing is becoming a requirement. As the courts make this transition to e-filing, law firms are feeling the pressure to digitize their documents and establish a paperless workflow.

The problem is that this is easier said than done. After all, there’s more to a paperless law firm than simply creating digital documents. Processes need to be established that will ensure that every document that enters the firm is scanned, entered into the firm’s document management or law practice management system using appropriate naming conventions, and filed in a way that makes the document easily searchable and accessible.

An important part of setting up a paperless workflow that is efficient and streamlined is to ensure that everyone in the firm understands how to work with the most common digital document format: PDFs. PDFs are the backbone of a paperless law firm, and the more familiarity members of your firm have working with PDF documents, the better.

If your firm is paperless or is in the process of transitioning to a paperless environment and you haven’t yet trained your staff on on the ins and outs of working with PDFs, never fear. You’ve come to the right place! This very topic was covered by two experts in February at the ABA Techshow in Chicago. During this presentation – “Polish Your PDF:  Beyond the Basics” – Daniel Siegal and Richard Ferguson offered lots of great advice to get you up to speed on using PDFs in a paperless law firm.

Below you’ll find the visual notes from that session along with 3 of our favorite tips:

The many benefits of PDFs

PDF documents offer a host of benefits that make them incredibly easy to work with. For starters, when you scan any type of file, once you save it in Adobe Acrobat, you can convert it into OCR (optical character recognition) format, thus making the document instantly editable and searchable. You can also combine multiple scanned files into a single PDF, making it easier to categorize and organize certain types of documents.

Another benefit of working with PDF files is that this format allows you to easily compare two documents so that you can locate any differences between them. PDFs also facilitate collaboration. As the presenters expalined, PDF documents can be highlighted, annotated, and comments can be added in the sidebar. Finally, another benefit that the presenters shared was that the creation of forms is easily accomplished using PDF software.

How to properly redact documents

Knowing how to properly redact PDF documents is an important skill. In recent years, there have been many publicly shared examples of PDF redaction gone awry in the legal space. If PDF documents are not properly redacted, it’s often a simple matter of copy and pasting text from a PDF document into word processing software in order to view the redacted sections.

For that reason, the presenters emphasized the necessity of having a through understanding of PDFs so that you can correctly redact them. As the presenters explained, avoid taking shortcuts, such as placing a comment box over select text, since the comment box can be easily deleted, thus revealing the text behind it. If you’re not sure how to go about redacting a PDF, here’s a detailed explanation of how to remove sensitive content from PDF documents through proper redaction using Adobe Acrobat.

How to create secure PDFs

And last, but not least, the presenters shared advice on how to create secure PDFs. The documents created by lawyers often include sensitive data, which then needs to be shared with others, including clients, expert witnesses, and co-counsel. The good news is that Adobe Acrobat makes it easy to password-protect documents so that they will be safe from prying eyes.

According to the presenters, one way to do this is to create a security envelope using a template. Once you’ve done so, you choose the documents that you want to place in the password-protected security envelope and then send it to the client or other recipient, who can then open it in Adobe Acrobat after entering the required password. For even more ways to secure your PDFs using Adobe Acrobat check out this blog post.

So there you have it! Lots of great ideas to get you on the path to working with PDFs in a paperless law firm. For even more information on making the transition to a paperless office, make sure to watch a recording of this recent webinar: Roadmap to a Paperless Law Firm.

Editor’s Note – This article is republished with the author’s permission, with first publication on MyCase.

Posted in: Case Management, Information Management, KM, Technology Trends