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Going Paperless with Acrobat

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This chapter provides an excellent real-world example of how using just the Adobe Acrobat product successfully enhances an organization's workflow, saving time and costs.
This chapter is from the book

Technology Covered in This Chapter: Securing PDF files with passwords, creating certified PDFs, using the Redaction tools, creating PDFs from websites and email, creating PDF Portfolios, searching PDF files and portfolios

Molly DiBianca is not a geek. As an accomplished associate in the law firm of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, Molly doesn't have the time or inclination to play with every new technical gadget that comes along. She is focused on a demanding schedule of case work, assisting partners, and her continuing legal education.

However, Molly learned that going paperless with Adobe Acrobat could help her meet the demands of her job while providing opportunities to transcend some of the traditional constraints of her profession. This chapter describes how Molly started using Adobe Acrobat in her work and then helped her firm adopt it across the enterprise.

  • "We are constantly challenged to get increasingly complex information out to more audiences without jeopardizing the integrity and security of that information."
  • —MOLLY DIBIANCA

Moving from Paper to PDF

It all started with a court order. On March 1, 2005, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware adopted an electronic filing system that required law firms to submit their court briefs in PDF format. At the time, Molly was one of the few people at Young Conaway who had experience using Acrobat, so she played a key role in helping her firm convert from paper to PDF.

Molly began using Acrobat in 2003 on her own initiative. She was not following any court order or IT directive, she simply needed a tool to help her with the challenges of a demanding job and life. As an associate, she was busy with many tasks, including working with her own clients, assisting the partners of Young Conaway, and keeping up with the changes in case law. Drowning in work, Molly began converting many paper documents into PDFs to help her with the following goals:

  • Quick access: By converting the many documents in a Redweld folder—the physical container for paper-based case documents—into PDFs, she had quick access to the information the partners were looking for.
  • Availability: By converting case law web pages and websites, she could later study them to stay up to date on legal changes.
  • Security: By converting her Microsoft Word–based client documents into secured PDFs, she ensured that they could not be altered, copied, or in some cases even printed. As a result, she provided her clients with more immediate access to her work without losing control of her documents.

This initial foray into the paperless world worked out well. No longer was Molly tied to the physical office or sharing the same, easy-to-misplace Redweld folders with more than a dozen other people at the firm. The added security to her client communication was important, but the ability to find a file when a partner needed it was priceless.

When the court order was issued, Molly seized the opportunity to take the paperless tools and techniques she was using and evangelize them throughout the firm.

Using Document Management with PDF and Interwoven

As useful as Molly's efforts were, she was only realizing incremental benefits at the time of the court order. Although she was paperless in her own work, she often needed to print out PDFs to work with colleagues or clients who used only paper. She began to envision the exponential gain for Young Conaway if the entire firm of 118 lawyers and 132 support staff went paperless.

Although the court order was the impetus for the paperless change, the transformation would be supported by technology and training. Molly and Young Conaway's IT steering committee understood the challenges they would face in such a paper-intensive profession, but they also understood the benefits of going paperless based on Molly's personal experience. They decided to meet the challenges using a world-class technical solution and a well-thought-out training strategy.

High-tech paperless transformation

Young Conaway needed a leading-edge, electronic document management system and strategy that the lawyers could understand and trust.

The first system component was already decided by the court: The electronic file format would be PDF. Young Conaway licensed over a hundred copies of Acrobat 6 so its professionals could create PDFs for the court submissions. The firm began creating traditional PDFs at this early stage with the PDFMaker plug-in for Microsoft Office applications. After a file was created, it was emailed to the court and assigned a docket number by the court.

The second component of Young Conaway's system was the use of the Interwoven WorkSite document management software (www.interwoven.com). As a leading document management system, WorkSite provides archiving and search and retrieval features needed by a document-centric organization.

The third component was the intelligence that the steering committee and the Young Conaway staff added to the system through configurations, categorizations, and document metadata. Integrated into WorkSite, this information produced relevant search results when the lawyers began using the system for all aspects of their business.

Molly and the team set up best practice standards for creating documents and categorizing them on the WorkSite system. One of the standards used the court docket number as the unique identifier for the document management system. Since all lawyers in the firm already had their court briefs saved as PDF and each brief already had a docket number assigned to it, it made sense to move this content and naming system to the internal WorkSite system. Lawyers could then remember the docket number and use it to easily find their paperless case materials on the system.

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1 Molly and her team next to the filing cabinets that previously housed the all-important Redweld folders, which are now almost obsolete.

High-touch paperless transformation

With the technology in place, the team then needed to teach the rest of the professionals in the firm about the system and train them in its proper use. Everyone was encouraged to practice with the system so they would begin to trust it with all aspects of their work. Molly created various best practice guides and conducted presentations for different groups in the firm. The following are a few paperless procedures she put into place to help the firm convert from paper to PDFs:

  • The PDF composite: All documents from a Redweld folder were scanned by the copy department on a high-speed automated scanner and saved as a composite PDF.
  • Paperless guidelines for paralegals: Paralegals were taught how to unitize this composite PDF into individual files using Acrobat's tools, including the Extract Pages feature in the Document menu. They were also taught other tools for optimizing the PDFs, including the Reduce File Size feature in the Document menu.
  • Uploading to the Interwoven WorkSite system: The file clerks were taught how to upload files to the document management system and how to use WorkSite's categorization and metadata features.

The more Molly talked with different practice groups about document management, the more she realized there were many time-consuming tasks that were ripe for Acrobat automation.

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