Adobe produce great PDF tools but lawyers can get what they need for far less money. Here’s why Adobe Acrobat is bad value for lawyers.
Adobe Acrobat Reader currently comes in three versions – ‘Acrobat Reader’, ‘Acrobat Standard’, and ‘Acrobat Pro’.
Acrobat Reader (also referred to as Acrobat DC) is the most basic version, and it’s free. It has very limited functionality and in my book is virtually of no use to lawyers other than as a PDF viewer – in other words, to open and read PDFs (but not to do anything else with them).
To access any kind of decent functionality for legal practice, one needs to purchase the ‘Standard’ or ‘Pro’ versions.
Cost of Acrobat Standard & Acrobat Pro
Acrobat Standard costs €28.28/mth (or €190.80/yr if pre-paid annually) for individuals and is even more expensive, on a ‘per-seat’ basis, for organisations.*
Acrobat Pro costs €36.89/mth (or €293.64/yr if pre-paid annually) for individuals and, like Acrobat Standard, is even more expensive on a ‘per-seat’ basis for organisations.*
Is this good value for lawyers?
No. Adobe includes a lot of features that are of no real use to lawyers, and omits some features that lawyers would find very useful.
As examples of features that lawyers don’t need, I would cite the following:
- Measure the distance, area and perimeter of objects in PDFs
- Turn Adobe Photoshop (PSD), Illustrator (AI) or InDesign (INDD) files into PDFs
- Create technical PDFs in Microsoft Project, Visio or Autodesk AutoCAD
- Add audio, video and interactive objects to PDFs
As to features that lawyers do need, the one major omission I have noticed is the inability to separately view contents and bookmarks. As you probably know, many e-briefs nowadays come with a ‘baked in’ bookmark tree that enables the user to quickly navigate to a particular page/document within the brief. While this is an extremely useful functionality, that bookmark tree can become very crowded and, with larger PDF briefs, can become difficult to navigate.
You can find yourself scrolling through a bookmark tree looking for the document you need. This takes time and can become quite frustrating when there are only a couple of documents, scattered throughout the bookmark tree, that you need to access.
Now, all lawyers know that when you’re reading a brief you will inevitable identify the core documents that you need to use for your argument, your consultation, or your drafting. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to ‘tag’ those documents somewhere other than in that cluttered bookmark tree? Adobe simply does not let you do this. Any ‘page tags’ you add are added to the existing list of bookmarks, which doesn’t make finding your document any easier.
What features do lawyers need?
In no particular order, here are some features that I see as useful to lawyers:
- Add comments to PDFs with a full suite of commenting tools including text editing, highlighting, underlining, and sticky notes;
- Add bookmarks and page numbering;
- View ‘Table of Contents’ bookmarks, and ‘page tag’ bookmarks, separately;
- Reorder, delete or rotate PDF pages;
- Insert, delete and organise pages in a PDF;
- Combine multiple documents and file types into one PDF file;
- Turn PDFs into editable Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint files;
- Split a PDF by extracting one or multiple pages;
- Convert documents and images to PDF files;
- Create PDFs from any application that prints;
- Create, protect and send PDFs in popular Microsoft 365 apps for Windows;
- Convert web pages to PDF;
- Prevent others from editing information in PDFs;
- Create a password protected PDF;
- Create and export PDFs.
Can these features be found in other PDF software?
Yes. There is plenty of other PDF software out there (for example – Xodo, PDF Expert, Foxit, Nitro) and you can search for it by typing ‘PDF Annotation Software’ into a search engine and seeing what you find.
It’s difficult (if not impossible) to do a side-by-side comparison of the features available in each product, because most of them offer a free version and a paid version (or, like Adobe, multiple paid versions). I’d wager, however, that all of them are less costly than Adobe Acrobat.
I use Xodo, and have used it for many years. It was initially a free product and, provided you used the desktop version, gave rise to no data security issues that I am aware of. In more recent times Xodo has added new features and now, alongside the free version (which has all the basic functionality you need but does not, for example, allow you to convert PDFs to other file types) has a paid version that costs $12/mth (or $108/yr if pre-paid annually)**. The paid version represents very good value and includes features like file conversion, file redaction, password protection, and encryption.
The real beauty of Xodo, as I see it, is that it has two separate and distinct sidebars that can be accessed when you are browsing a PDF. The first of these shows you the ‘baked in’ bookmarks, and the second shows you the page tags that you have added. It makes preparatory work a whole lot easier – use the Table of Contents (the ‘baked in’ bookmarks) to find the documents you need, then tag them, and you end up with a separate sidebar containing only your tags (all of which can be edited/re-ordered/grouped as required).
Unfortunately Xodo does not yet provide a Mac OS desktop version (for Apple laptops and desktops) but it does provide an iOS version (for iPhones and iPads) and an Android version. For lawyers using Apple laptops or desktops (not a great purchasing decision IMHO), I recommend PDF Expert which (although I don’t know if it has separate sidebars for bookmarks and page tags) comes highly recommended by Apple users and is priced at €84.99/yr or €169.99 for a lifetime licence***.
*Adobe pricing information accurate as of 7 November 2022 and taken from https://www.adobe.com/ie/acrobat/pricing.html
***PDF Expert pricing information accurate as of 7 November 2022 and taken from https://pdfexpert.com/pricing
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