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LawTech Blog by Seth Azria, Esq.

Abode is a Software Company, PDF is a Format, Reader is Free, Acrobat is Not. 

This may be the most misunderstood, confused, and even confusing subject in law office tech. 

I have seen resumes from lawyers that claim to be expert in Adobe, expert in a entire company? A PDF is often regarded as an inherently secure format, it's not.  The difference between Reader and Acrobat is often not recognized.  And the enormous capability of Acrobat goes tragically underutilized.   

Here is what you need to know to clear up the confusion and get on the way to using some truly incredible software.


Adobe is a Leading Software Company

Abode is probably most famous for Photoshop.  But they also make Dreamweaver, inDesign, Flash, Coldfusion, Illustrator,  Soundbooth, and of course Acrobat ($400) and Reader (Free). Adobe Acrobat for Lawyers

Adobe software is often sold bundled into Creative Suites aimed at particular purposes, e.g. Web Premium, Production Premium, Design Premium, ($1,700) and then there is the Master Collection ($2,500).  


PDF is a Format Adobe Invented

PDF is an acronym for Portable Document Format. 

Abode invented it in the early 1990s to facilitate document exchange.  PDF lets people view files independent from the software that created them, e.g. a person does not need Excel to see a spreadsheet created in Excel because they can view it as a PDF.  As a document sharing tool, PDF serves a critical function.

Originally, PDF was used as part of the desktop publishing work flow. For example, a designer working for a magazine can layout and ad in inDesign and then convert it PDF for approval and feedback.

This may seem like a trifling matter but inDesign and other industry class design and layout programs are expensive, inaccessible, and complicated. inDesign, alone, costs $699 and universities and trade schools base design curriculum on programs like it.  I can tell you from experience, it takes many hours of study and practice to even get near programs like inDesign.  See the Screen Shot Gallery for an idea of how complex these programs are. 

The legal industry is split between WordPerfect, Word 2003 with the .doc extension, and Word 2007 and its .docx extension; a standardized file format accessible to all is no small thing.

PDF is a common language.  


Where PDF Comes From: Conversion and Printing

Most file extensions tell us something about where the file came from.  For example, .doc is a Word file, .wpd is a WordPerfect document, .docx came from Word 2007, .xls from Excel, .psd from Photoshop, .indd from inDesign.

A file bearing .pdf could have once been any of these files before it was liberated by the Portable Document Format.  And it may have been converted to PDF by any number of means.  See the Screen Shot Gallery for a shot of the PDF Properties Box that gives this and other information. 

Here a few of the common ways people create PDF:


From Third Party Software and Program Extensions

While Abode invented PDF, they allow anyone to write software to create PDF provided the programs meet certain standards. Docudesk and NitroPDF are two programs that convert other formats to PDF and, to some extent, manipulate the resulting PDF files.  

There are also extensions and plug ins for programs like Microsoft Word that convert to or save as PDF. 

From a Scanner

Scanners often create PDF from software bundled with the scanner and also typically include software that can recognize text from a scan. 

From the Mac Operating System

Every Mac comes with the ability to save as PDF any file that can be printed.  This feature is built directly into the operating system and a range of options related to PDF organization appears on every print dialog box in the lower left corner by clicking the "PDF" button.  See the Screen Shot Gallery.

From Adobe Acrobat

Acrobat is the ultimate in PDF conversion and manipulation. Acrobat comes with PDF "Printers" that render very high quality PDF.  Abode Printers appear along side any other other printer installed on the computer.  To the computer they are printers.  See Screen Shot Gallery.

Acrobat can also convert entire web sites to PDF. 

Creating PDF is only a fraction of what Acrobat can do, but it is the basic thing it does. 

Viewing Portable Document Format

Most people use Abode Reader to view PDF.

To support the format, Adobe distributes Reader for free.  Reader is often pre-installed on new PCs.  While most Mac users also have Reader, the program is not required, because all Macs come with a multi-purpose application called Preview that opens PDF files. The native ability of Macs to convert and view PDF is one of the many reasons I think Macs are perfect for lawyers.

Of course, as the full suite of tools to create, edit, collaborate, and manipulate PDF, Acrobat is also used to view PDF files.


Where the Confusion Often Arises

It is probably safe to say that every person with a computer has Abode Reader.

I find that few lawyers distinguish between Acrobat and Reader and refer to anything related to PDF, as Adobe.  So which do you have?

The easiest way to find out if someone has Acrobat is to ask if they remember paying between $300 to $450 for their "Adobe."  If the former, they probably have Acrobat Standard and the latter means Acrobat Professional. the ones that think you are crazy for suggesting they pay anything for something free, have Reader. 

I suspect that the common idea that a PDF can't be changed comes from the fact that in Reader, it can't be. 

A letter created in Word and converted to PDF is still subject to alteration in Acrobat.  A PDF is inherently more secure than a .doc file but it is by no means impervious to change by average and accessible methods.

A person with Acrobat can change text on that letter rather easily while it is still a PDF.   If you are hesitant to send Word files out of your office because they can be changed too easily, you may want to think twice about sending out unsecured PDF for the same reason.   


Bottom Line: A Common Language is Just the Beginning

PDF created a common language and Reader effectively eliminated compatibility problems.

PDF can also be converted to other formats such as image files, .jpg or .tiff or to a Word Document.  But even though a PDF may become something else, a PDF is a PDF, and for us, that is exactly the way we want it.  

Working with PDF inside of Acrobat, as if it were paper, is when the real benefits roll in.  Acrobat may seem too expensive but it's worth it. 

I have described Acrobat as a bottomless drawer of supplies and room full of filing cabinets.  It is that and more. Demonstrating what it is and how it helps is one of the primary goals of this site.

In my view, Acrobat is one of the three big favors lawyers can do for themselves:

1. Buy a Mac,

2. Learn Styles in Word,  and

3. Learn and use Acrobat.  

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