A few months ago Adobe released a new online service called ExportPDF, which converts PDFs to Word documents while retaining the formatting. For $19.99 per year (automatically renewing) one can convert unlimited PDFs to Word documents. It seemed interesting and potentially useful, so I signed up.

As with any service, there are advantages and disadvantages not only to using Adobe ExportPDF, but the mere existence of the service. On the upside, for instance, you now have a simple method for turning PDF forms into editable documents. No more re-typing examples, or copying-and-pasting without the formatting. Here is part of a basic will form as a PDF, and here is the converted, editable document. As you can see, the formatting is retained amazingly well. And the whole conversion for this 3-page example took less than 10 seconds.

On the downside, however, there are some limitations in what the converter can handle. Here is the output of a notarized affidavit with some handwriting and two signatures on it. Although ExportPDF claims that it uses OCR to make scanned text editable, there are clearly some limitations on that technology, given the affidavit above.

Also notable are two limitations I have discovered while testing it. First, the output files are in the .docx format, which was introduced with the release of Microsoft Word 2007. Although older versions of Word can download .docx viewers, and OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice can open them, there is a known problem with opening ExportPDF .docx files in LibreOffice. Every converted document I tried to open in LibreOffice opened as a single blank page. Regular followers of Lawyerist will recognize our fondness for open-source office software, so for users of LibreOffice (and presumably for OpenOffice.org as well) ExportPDF is not all that useful.

The second limitation I found is with at least some PDFs created with CutePDF (a free PDF creator), the conversion from PDF to editable document either missed some of the formatting, or produced a completely empty document. The will example earlier in this post started as a 10-page PDF. I was having some read-write problems with deleting pages, so I opted to just print the first 3 pages through CutePDF, which looks to work the same as an Acrobat-produced PDF. But post-conversion I had a blank 3-page .docx file. With another CutePDF-created PDF, I kept the headers, footers, and text, but boldface, underlining, and italics were all eliminated. So it seems that ExportPDF plays well with Adobe and Microsoft software, but is not yet universal.

Finally, since it is now so easy to convert back and forth between PDFs and editable documents, we may need to pay closer attention to PDF documents sent back and forth between parties. In the past I generally felt that sending a document to review in PDF form limited the ability of the recipient to make any changes to the document, and that I could be reasonably certain that the document (especially a document that has been sent to be executed) was the same as the document I sent. ExportPDF, however, makes editing and re-converting documents to PDFs so easy that PDFs don’t have that same level of inherent security. I would never suggest that someone could forego reviewing an important document that has been executed by one party; this new service just makes review of documents all that much more important.

In all, I think that ExportPDF is a great deal, and is well worth your $20 if you ever want to save some time by being able to edit old PDFs for new purposes, or if you want to lift some language from a PDF to insert in a different document. It is ludicrously fast, and so simple that it’s nearly impossible to have any problems executing the conversion. There are some limitations, though, and for people like me who don’t want to shell out for Microsoft’s Office Suite, it is not yet useful.