Adobe Acrobat Professional is powerful software, which can help lawyers do more with PDF files in e-filing, e-discovery, and general everyday law practice. But Acrobat Professional, which costs over $400, is way too expensive for lawyers in most small firms.
Adobe is showing no signs of lowering the price of Acrobat, and in fact seems headed in the direction of selling its software only on a subscription basis. Currently, Acrobat goes for $19/month as a subscription. If Adobe starts requiring lawyers to pay $200/year for its flagship PDF software, even fewer lawyers will opt to use it.
Enter Nuance Power PDF Advanced software (currently only available for Windows computers), which retails for $149. At one-third the price of Acrobat, many lawyers should be paying close attention to Power PDF.
The questions are: what trade-offs are there? And, does it have all of the features of the $400 Acrobat Professional?
When Ernie calls himself a power user just below, he’s not kidding. He literally wrote the book (and the blog) on Acrobat and PDF for lawyers. That’s why I asked him to write this review. —Ed.
Not surprisingly, as a power user of Acrobat I found some trade-offs. But I also found that Nuance Power PDF Advanced does everything Acrobat Professional does, but with a much easier-to-understand interface. In short, it’s a great option that many lawyers will happily embrace.
Here are some features, all of which mirror ones found in Acrobat Professional:
- Easy, one-click PDF-creation options, e.g. create bookmarked PDFs from Microsoft Word files that have heading styles.
- Simple export from PDF to a Microsoft Office document such as Word (or to Wordperfect format, which is not even an option in Acrobat).
- Combine multiple PDFs (or other file types) into a single PDF.
- Intuitive conversion of image PDFs into searchable PDFs.
- Robust search functions fully equivalent to Acrobat’s.
- Ability to use full-blown digital signatures, or simple signature stamps.
- Commenting and editing tools similar to Acrobat’s tools.
- Redaction functions, allowing lawyers to permanently obscure sensitive parts of PDF documents.
- Bates-stamping and bates-numbering functionality.
- Ability to create PDF/A files, which may be required for e-filing soon in many federal courts.
- Easy form creation from Word documents
- Easy optimization of a PDF to make its file size smaller
- Ability to integrate with LexisNexis Casemap program
In short, Nuance took the “kitchen-sink” approach to adding features. But, they did so in a way that’s not hard to figure out.
Frankly, I find the interface of Power PDF (which is obviously much less familiar to me), easier to figure out than Acrobat. If you’re already used to the toolbar Ribbon in Microsoft Office, then Nuance’s Power PDF will be even easier to figure out.
Nuance has done a great job on the look and feel of its new PDF software. Tools are all clearly labeled and easy to find. Acrobat’s user interface, on the other hand, has been going backwards. The last two editions of Acrobat (X and XI) confused many of us with menus and tools that were moved or renamed. Adobe also increased the number of clicks needed to access many tools in Acrobat.
Acrobat has two side panels, one on the right and one on the left. Why they did this makes no sense to me. Nuance has only one side panel on the left, and it’s easy to figure out what tools are located there.
The comments and attachments area is located on the bottom, which is easy to find and makes a lot of sense.
When it comes to navigability, and usability, the advantage is clearly in Nuance’s favor.
Acrobat ships with some default stamps that are typically used in business settings. The design quality of Adobe’s stamps is pretty pedestrian.
Nuance has about the same number of stamp choices, and its stamps look more modern and aesthetically pleasing.
The most-useful kind of stamp, in my estimation, is a signature stamp. Creating a full-blown digital signature is too cumbersome, and usually results in the recipient of the digitally-signed PDF being confused.
A signature stamp is just an imported digital copy of your real signature. The process for importing a graphic signature is the same in Nuance and Acrobat software, but Nuance offers some additional useful options.
First, when you import your graphic signature in Nuance’s Power PDF you can easily erase the white background during the import process. With Acrobat the process is harder and less intuitive.
Also, Nuance has a built-in, easy-to-find flattening option so you can permanently embed the signature into the document. Acrobat XI added a new menu that connects to its online EchoSign digital signature service, and from there you can flatten a signature. But it’s not obvious unless you know that the flattening option is there.
So the stamps features in Nuance are better than the ones in Acrobat.
Adobe is eager to connect Acrobat to its EchoSign service, which is cloud-based. And as I mentioned, it’s possible that soon Acrobat will only be available as a subscription model.
Nuance has its eyes in the cloud too, but in a much less restrictive way.
Power PDF allows you to integrate easily with file-sharing sites like Box, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, and Office 365. Firms can also integrate the software with document management systems such as NetDocuments or Sharepoint, among others.
Nuance’s software also allows you to add “sticky notes” to a PDF file using a cloud-based version of its well-known Dragon speech recognition software.
Bates-Stamping & Redaction
The main reason I have advised lawyers to get at least one copy of Acrobat Professional for their law office is for the bates-stamping and redaction features. Acrobat Standard ($300) does not have these two important features.
Nuance Power PDF Advanced has them, and they work in the same manner as Adobe Acrobat Professional. Nuance sells a less expensive version of Power PDF called “Standard,” that does not do bates-stamping and redaction, and costs just $89.
Bates stamping in Nuance offers the ability to shrink the document to create white space where the bates-number can reliably be placed. And it allows you to save your favorite settings for reuse later.
Finding the bates-stamping function in Nuance was a rare example of something not being where I’d expect it. It’s located under the Edit menu, as opposed to the Advanced Processing menu. But it’s not easy to find in Acrobat either.
Remember the beginning of this article, when I mentioned trade-offs? Well, keyboard shortcuts are one area where Nuance is behind Acrobat.
Being able to navigate and manipulate a PDF using keyboard shortcuts is crucial for power users. Here are important PDF tasks that should be done using keyboard shortcuts:
- Rotate page or group of pages
- Zoom in or out of a document
- Snap to Fit Page or Fit Width view
- Create a sticky note comment
- Find words or phrases in a PDF
- Jump to a specific page in a PDF
- Return back to the previous page easily
All of the keyboard shortcuts in Acrobat work in Nuance except two: jumping to specific pages, and creating sticky notes. Not having a keyboard shortcut to jump to a specific page baffles me.
Splitting PDFs – Sad Trombones
The document splitting function in Acrobat is incredibly useful, and offers 3 choices: split by file size, split by number of pages, and split by bookmark.
Nuance Power PDF offers eight options, including the ability split by bookmarks below top-level (Acrobat only allows you to split by top-level bookmarks).
But Acrobat offers the ability to have the resulting files created from top-level bookmarks named the same as the bookmark. Nuance Power PDF outputs bookmarks with file names that begin with the phrase “Segment” followed by a number assigned to the bookmark, and then the file name of the source PDF.
Cue the sound of sad trombones.
Trust me, you want the ability to split bookmarks and wind up with file names based on the bookmarks. The reason is simple, if not obvious. When you get a large PDF from a client that contains many individual documents, you’ll want to wind up with a separate PDF for each document.
Each separate document is a separate PDF, which makes it easy to keep track of documents. But you want the documents to be named so that they sort chronologically, and do so automatically. In other words, you want the document to be named something like 2014–04–04 Letter from B. Jones to L. Smith re copyright.
So bookmarking and splitting is a key part of the workflow that produces this PDF document-management nirvana. Unfortunately, with Nuance you can’t split PDFs in this way, and that’s more than just sad or annoying. It’s a major downfall.
Nuance Power PDF Advanced is easy to figure out and use. And the price is obviously the main advantage over Acrobat, since it costs about $300 less. Not having those two keyboard shortcuts I mentioned isn’t a big enough trade-off to make me jump ship from Acrobat.
However, not having the ability to split PDF bookmarks to create documents named based on the bookmark name is the real deal-killer for me. But here’s a happier takeaway.
For years I’ve told lawyers that they need at least one copy of Acrobat Professional in their office, and then they can get every one else a copy of Acrobat Standard. Now I’ll probably tell them to get Nuance Power PDF Advanced for all the lawyers who don’t have Acrobat Professional: it’s half the cost of Acrobat Standard, and much more useful.
Nuance Power PDF Advanced is half the cost of Acrobat Standard, and much more useful. It doesn’t quite measure up to Acrobat Professional, though.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Nuance Power PDF Advanced, reviewed by Ernie Svenson on .