Adobe Acrobat got upgraded recently, and lawyers will like some of the new features. The new versions of Acrobat Standard and Acrobat Pro have a pile of upgrades, from user interface tweaks to new redaction and metadata removal tools. A few years ago, Acrobat Standard or Pro were optional lawyering tools. Today, they are standard equipment.

The difference between Acrobat and the free Acrobat Reader is that with Acrobat, you can actually edit documents. But Acrobat does much more than just let you insert and delete pages from your PDF documents.

I got my first copy of Acrobat Standard for free when I bought my ScanSnap nearly five years ago. I didn’t even know how much I needed it at the time, but I have used it every day since, for everything from assembling documents to Bates stamping to adding DRAFT watermarks before sharing files with clients or opposing counsel.

User interface tweaks

Over the years, Adobe Acrobat’s user interface has gotten complicated, just like the Microsoft Office UI did. As Adobe added features, the interface started to feel crowded, and important features were un-intuitively buried deep in menus and dialogs. The biggest change in Acrobat X is Adobe’s attempt to simplify the menus and toolbars. I say attempt because the changes are not a big improvement. Acrobat’s interface is just as complicated as ever, but now the features are scattered to unfamiliar locations that are no easier to access.

Most of the new features are in the new Tools | Comment | Share thing on the right side of the taskbar. The idea is do give you quicker access to your most frequently-used tasks. In practice, however, it’s just a different confusing mess of menus and options. It may be worse, actually, because it is less familiar. It also takes up a ton of screen real estate, squeezing your document out of the way.

I think the goal was to take better advantage of widescreen monitors by shifting more menu and toolbar functions to the vertical. It’s a sound idea, but it doesn’t really work, because the menus aren’t just drop-downs (or drop-overs, I suppose); they actually open up and shove your document out of the way. And, as I mentioned, they are just as convoluted as the old drop-down menus. The changes are well-intentioned, but poorly implemented.

Contrast the changed UI with Microsoft’s “Ribbon” interface for Office, which is, on the whole, a big improvement on the old menus and toolbars. Acrobat’s new menu, on the other hand, just makes functions harder to find, without a clear reason.

That said, Acrobat is still plenty usable, and the rest of the changes are welcome.

Improved redaction

Adobe is deliberately targeting lawyers with this upgrade, and the new redaction features are a big part of that. And an important feature, since the federal courts in particular have begun coming down hard on lawyers who fail to redact financial information from court filings.

Some lawyers have apparently tried to redact information in Acrobat simply by drawing a black box over it. This does not work.

Acrobat X not only allows you to redact fully and in compliance with court rules, but it is “smart” about it. In addition to highlighting text to redact, you can search for and remove words or phrases. Even cooler, you can search for patterns, like credit card numbers and social security numbers.

Once you click Apply Redactions, it’s all safely gone (best save an unredacted copy, first).

Metadata removal tools

Finally, metadata removal is now easy. If you click Remove Hidden Information, Acrobat will show you what metadata the document holds, and you can remove some or all of it. Or, you can just click Sanitize Document, to wipe out everything but what you see in the document.

I think the metadata hype is more FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) than a real issue, but it can’t hurt to know what you are revealing, and to whom.

Choosing a version of Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat comes in two flavors: Standard and Pro. If you want all the bells and whistles, like Bates numbering and redaction, go with Pro. However, if you just need to edit the occasional PDF, you will be fine with Standard.