The Wisconsin State Bar recently published an impressive comparison chart reviewing PDF Software for attorneys. Four packages, Adobe Acrobat, Nitro Pro 8, PDF Converter Enterprise 8, and pdfDOCS, were reviewed in great detail. The analysis looks at each software with an eye towards what attorneys need from their PDF-creation software. Core requirements include creating searchable PDFs, adding comments, adding Bates stamp numbers, high-level image and text redaction, and the ability to remove metadata from the document.
As far as comparison charts go, I’m quite impressed. They cover everything from word processor compatibility (including both Word and WordPerfect), other compatibility (Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook), conversion capabilities (to and from various document types, including TXT, RTF, and image files), and compatibility with other software and apps commonly used by lawyers, like Evernote. The packages were also evaluated for Ease of Use, Feature Set, Value for Cost, and Manual/Help/Online Resources, on a scale of 1-10 for each category.
So what is the best PDF software for attorneys?
(Also, check out reviews of other PDF software packages in our Review Catalog)
Adobe Acrobat XI: Professional
Among Acrobat’s best features is the ability to directly edit a PDF document without having to locate the original hard copy. As most of us have experienced, too frequently when a change needed to be made, you would have to go find the original document, make any changes you wanted, re-scan or convert the document, and replace the existing PDF with your new, modified version. Acrobat dramatically reduces that need by providing the ability to edit directly. Acrobat also allows direct connection to web-based document storage such as Evernote and Dropbox, which can be immensely helpful to the mobile lawyer.
Carryover features including the ability to archive emails from Outlook into a searchable PDF format (one of the best features of Acrobat, in my opinion), and Wizard, which allows for creating a document automation system, help to boost the quality of the Acrobat platform. As a bonus, anyone who purchases a Fujitsu ScanSnap 1500 (as our office did) will get a copy of Acrobat X Standard, so upgrading to professional only costs $199 (instead of the purchase price of $499). Additionally, Acrobat has the most tutorial and training options available, by far, of all the programs reviewed.
Among the drawbacks are that Acrobat does not convert PDF documents into Word or Excel files nearly as well as the other products on this list. Also, the new menu system is more clumsy than it could be, and somewhat reduces the efficiency of the program. Lastly, it cannot be ignored that Acrobat is easily the most expensive program on the list. Even the upgrade price of $199 is pretty pricey. However, for the cost, you get the program that contains the most options for working with PDF files.
Nitro Pro 8 by Nitro PDF Pty. Ltd
Among the best features of Nitro Pro 8 must be the seamless integration with the MS Office programs that most attorneys use, like Word and Excel. The Nitro Pro 8 interface, unlike that of Adobe Acrobat, is designed much like that of the MS Office programs, and add-on software available for Word and Excel allow creation of PDF documents, including manipulation features such as applying security and creating bookmarks, far exceeds what is available for Adobe. Nitro Pro 8 also comes with a free copy of NitroReader, a PDF reader program similar to Adobe Reader, but with additional functionality such as PDF creation and typewriter tools.
Possibly the best feature in Nitro Pro 8 is the extremely accurate OCR tools that are automatically prompted when you open a new PDF. With significantly better speed and, more importantly, accuracy than Acrobat, Nitro Pro 8 is able to really set itself apart for attorneys. The most economical in price, Nitro Pro offers a lot of tools for only $119.
There are significant shortcomings, however, to go along with the perks. First, Nitro Pro 8 does not allow you to convert multiple files into anything other than a single PDF document (other programs allow creation of portfolios that may include Word and Excel documents in their native format). Nitro Pro also lacks the ability to create form documents, which reduces document automation capabilities. Lastly, Nitro Pro does not allow insertion of pages into existing PDF files, either from another document or a scanner.
PDF Converter Enterprise 8 by Nuance
Second only to Adobe Acrobat in features, PDF Converter Enterprise 8 has all the tools necessary for lawyers, and all the benefits one would expect from a software from the company that brought us Dragon Dictation. Yes, believe it or not, PDF Converter Enterprise comes equipped with Dragon Notes integration! Regarding other features, PDF Converter Enterprise goes pretty much punch-for-punch with Acrobat. It contains an email archive system compatible with MS Outlook, with the additional feature of allowing attached files to be retained either in their native format or as PDF files. PDF Converter Enterprise also allows direct interaction with cloud-based document management systems like Box, Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Drive.
PDF Converter Enterprise has all the document conversion tools available in Adobe Acrobat, but with one key addition: PDF Converter Enterprise is the ONLY software package reviewed that allows you to convert to Word Perfect, which is important to a lot of attorneys. At $149 per license, PDF Converter Enterprise is significantly less expensive than Adobe Acrobat.
On the downside, PDF Converter Enterprise has an overly cluttered, and frequently clumsy, interface. Additionally, unlike the other programs reviewed here, PDF Converter Enterprise has a minimum purchase limit of 5 licenses, which could be prohibitive for small firms or solo attorneys, unless the license is purchased through a third-party company such as CDW (which Nuance allows).
pdfDOCS by DocsCorp
The concept adopted by DocsCorp for pdfDOCS is quite different from the other software packages on this list. First, they operate from more of an a-la-carte perspective with their software. On the belief that not everyone will need all the same tools, users can purchase only the tools that individual users will need. Additionally, unlike the other programs that operate from a document-centric perspective, pdfDOCS operates more from a matter-management perspective, viewing documents as parts of portfolios and projects.
Among the key features is a function titled “Binders,” which provides by far the most extensive options available for creating files or portfolios that integrate PDF documents with other types of documents in their native format. When these portfolios are created, pdfDOCS automatically generates a table of contents, bookmarks, and intra-portfolio links to the various documents. The Watch Folder application, which automatically converts certain documents to PDF, includes a nice feature when combined with Outlook, prompting the user with an option to convert any file to a PDF if it is attached to an outgoing message, which may prevent attorneys from accidentally emailing documents that can be manipulated or modified in their native formats. While priced at $250 per license, users who are considering adopting Worldox for document management will be able to purchase pdfDOCS at a discount.
There are several significant drawbacks to pdfDOCS, though. There is no direct integration with Outlook for archiving emails, and there is no function within pdfDOCS that allows an email and an attachment to remain linked if they are archived manually. Further, pdfDOCS does not include the ability to add a digital ID or digital certificate to a secure PDF, unless it is done through a third-party program. Although there is excellent connection to document management systems like Worldox, pdfDOCS strangely does not include the ability to import directly from a desktop scanner, limiting its usefulness.
(It still annoys me that there isn’t ONE that is able to do all the things I want it to do. Still love my Acrobat though…)