The Highest Form of Flattery

The legal world is always slow to change. Perhaps it is the cautious nature of lawyers, or the entrenched processes of court clerks or maybe everyone in the legal community is a little too in love with stare decisis. Nevertheless, the legal community has inched forward and most courts now accept electronic filings.

For those of you who love your heavy, dusty redwells, don’t worry. Hard copies of documents are sometimes still necessary for pleadings and evidence. Paper documents are so elemental to the legal process, that we are likely still years away from a completely electronic workflow.

Still, there’s no denying the utility of reducing paper. You’ve heard, ad nauseam, how you can save on storage and find documents more easily when they’re stored electronically. Those big-picture benefits are real, but they don’t give one a really concrete idea of exactly how using electronic documents will change the way you work.

And that’s really what we care about, isn’t it? The whole point of technology is to help us do tedious things with ease, and electronic documents serve that purpose well. For instance—poaching.

The Secret Everyone Knows

Attorneys are skilled poachers. We’re always seeing an artfully crafted contract provision or legal argument and filing it away for later use. After all, it is the highest form of flattery. And with electronic documents, you can flatter your fellow counsel easily and often. Adobe Acrobat DC lets you scan documents and then convert the resulting PDF into Word or RTF format. Once the file is in either of these formats, you can search, edit and correct it all you like. Where you once had to retype large sections of text, now you can simply cut and paste the choicest bits. The takeaway here is that even if you need to keep hard copies of some documents, it makes sense to convert those documents to electronic form to make them easier to work with – and borrow from.

Even without converting a PDF into Word, Acrobat DC has powerful tools you can use in your practice. Without ever leaving Acrobat, you can clean up and optimize that nearly illegible agreement that looks like it was run through a fax machine a dozen times. You can reorder pages that were scanned incorrectly. You can make edits right inside of Acrobat and the software will mimic the font to give you a clean look, even when you don’t have that font installed on your device. Also, at long last, you can run a document comparison between two PDFs before you give your client the go-ahead to sign.

And, when you get to that point, you can take your cleaned-up and properly ordered PDF and send it out to be signed electronically. Recipients get an email with a link; they can open the document on their desktop or mobile device, sign it with a click, and submit it; then the next person in the workflow gets a link and the cycle repeats. Everyone who needs to handle the document gets access to it automatically while the file remains stored securely in Adobe Document Cloud the entire time.

The cocktail napkin contract isn’t going away, but…

Nothing is going to stop people from scratching out contracts on cocktail napkins, but when even organizations as tied to tradition as the US court system recognize the utility of transmitting documents electronically, the rest of us need to take notice. Shouldn’t we be at least as innovative as the courts we appear before?

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