Transforming Procedures with Acrobat
Once the lawyers and their support staff had easy access to PDF documents, they began to rely on them as the document of record with their clients and with the court system. However, this presented some new challenges and some new opportunities because they were no longer just uploading and downloading the files. They now needed to work with these files, and they needed tools and techniques for securing, organizing, and searching these paperless documents.
Security was the lawyers' first concern. They wanted assurance that no one could change the content of a document or copy and paste their valuable work without permission. They also needed to comply with various federal and state laws concerning information privacy in the documents they filed with the courts.
Document Open and Permission passwords
One security issue was resolved by using Acrobat's Password Security functionality. In situations in which lawyers needed to keep a document completely off-limits to unauthorized users, they would assign a Document Open password to the file. A recipient would then need to enter the exact password before the file would open. In other situations, the lawyers used Acrobat's Permission passwords to restrict certain document privileges like copying or printing. Young Conaway also began using certified PDFs in its client communications. You will work with all these security techniques later in the chapter.
In addition to document security, Young Conaway also had to secure certain types of information based on client requirements or state and federal laws. The electronic court filings—which are public documents posted on the Internet—cannot contain information like social security numbers and the names of minor children. Redaction is the process of masking this confidential information within public documents.
Traditionally, Young Conaway used magic markers and tape to redact information from documents. This paper-based approach was neither secure nor fast. In some cases, it was still possible to read the information that was covered. In all cases, it was a slow, labor-intensive process. The litigation support staff—which included paralegals and legal administrative assistants (LAAs)—would sometimes spend days redacting content in case documents.
With the new paperless approach, the support staff uses Acrobat's Redaction tools to locate and redact confidential information:
- They interactively review the document and mark certain terms for redaction with a highlighter-type pen tool.
- They use the Search and Redact tool to find all instances of specific terms or phrases.
- They use the Search and Redact tool to find all instances of a pattern like a social security number or a phone number.
In addition to making it easier to find certain items within long documents, the Acrobat Redaction tools can also redact the terms using a custom overlay (Figure 4.2).
Figure 4.2 A redacted PDF with a custom overlay showing the reader that a company name has been removed from the document.
A custom overlay can include brief information about why the term is being redacted. For instance, Acrobat includes code sets for the U.S. FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and the U.S. Privacy Act. You can also edit these codes and create your own code sets. Since the overlay is more informative than a traditional paper-based redaction, a reader is usually less suspicious about these additions to the document.
Creating, Organizing, and Searching Documents
After the security issues were addressed, the Young Conaway team members learned about Acrobat's useful ways to create and organize their documents and faster ways to search the contents of their paperless case files.
Useful ways to create and organize
Acrobat's tools enabled the team to create and organize different types of content into different types of PDF files. Once created, Acrobat can automatically apply Bates numbering (a common legal system) to these files. Lawyers at Young Conaway use the following techniques to create and organize their PDFs:
- Create a PDF from a website: A complete website with links can be saved as a PDF to mark a moment in time.
- Create a PDF from Microsoft Outlook: An email history can be saved as a PDF and used in conjunction with Acrobat's powerful search capabilities.
- Create a PDF Portfolio with multiple files: An entire case filing can be organized into a PDF Portfolio including multiple PDFs and other file types, including Microsoft Word and Excel.
- Assign Bates numbering to a PDF: A Bates number can be assigned to each document page in a brief. In the paper-based world, this was accomplished with stamp tools or label makers.
Faster ways to search
Unlike paper documents, PDF documents can be indexed and searched. For instance, a paralegal often needs to fact-check the court briefs from Young Conaway and from opposing council. A court brief usually includes an appendix that contains affidavits, depositions, and other discovery documents that support the brief (Figure 4.3). The fact-checking process is greatly improved with Acrobat's search tools.
Figure 4.3 The court brief is only part of the material that needs fact-checking. Often, there is supporting appendix documentation that dwarfs the size of the brief.
Searching is possibly the most important benefit of being paperless, because in the age of Google, people expect immediate answers and feedback. Acrobat meets this expectation with search tools that enable the Young Conaway professionals to search PDF files and PDF Portfolios.