Tech You Should Know: PDF Skills for Law Students and Lawyers

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PDFs seem like they should be intuitive to use – just click them open and you’re done, right?  You’ve probably already noticed that many legal documents are PDFs, including articles from legal databases or maybe even the online version of your casebook.  But while basic PDFs are easy to use, lawyers often need to take advantage of more advanced features.

Why use PDFs?

Evidence is often preserved in PDF because PDF files can be standardized to work the same way across many different platforms.  This means that all parties in a case or transaction can use the same documents in the same way.  PDFs can also be formatted for long-term storage, meaning that lawyers don’t have to worry about future computer or software upgrades changing the look and feel of evidentiary documents.

PDFs can be secured with passwords and protected with other security features. Visible and hidden text and images in PDFs can be redacted, protecting confidential information.  PDFs created from scanned images can be made searchable.

PDF software and skills

For the most part, free programs like Adobe Acrobat Reader are sufficient for law students.  You can use Reader to complete and sign forms, for example.  For PDFs that allow comments, you can use Reader’s commenting and highlighting tools to add annotations.  This means that you can often use Reader to mark up PDFs used for research or when preparing for exams – Adobe’s help pages have more information.

Lawyers need more powerful tools to edit and secure PDFs.  If you are working with PDFs in a firm, you will likely use a  professional-level editor such as Adobe Acrobat Pro or Nuance’s Power PDF Advanced

Some of the most common PDF skills that lawyers need include:

More information

For more information about PDFs in the law, check out 3 PDF Tips for Lawyers from the FindLaw Legal Technology Blog and Adobe’s “Acrolaw”, a blog with Acrobat tips for legal professionals.

About Debbie Ginsberg

Debbie is the Educational Technology Librarian at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.
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