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Editing PDFs for Lawyers

Editing PDFs is often an FML moment in an attorney’s workday. Learning how to edit a PDF, using either free or paid tools, can make your life a lot easier.

A PDF, aka portable document format, is a digital file that is readable by others no matter what software they use to view the file. Usually, this means a PDF can’t easily be modified, unless you have certain software to do so, which is another reason why editing a PDF is such a pain.

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC

The most common and popular PDF editor is Adobe Acrobat Pro DC. It’s pretty easy to figure out how to edit a PDF with Adobe.

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC Edit PDF button circled

As you can guess, clicking “Edit PDF” opens up a menu of different text and image editing tools you can use to make any changes you want within your document. Other versions of Adobe, including the free option, offer limited editing tools and functionality. Though you’ll be able to export your PDFs to Microsoft Word in all versions.

Side note: Yes, you can always export your PDF document into Word and edit it in Word, but that’s an even bigger pain.

You can buy a subscription to Adobe Acrobat Pro starting at $14.99 if you agree to a year-long commitment, otherwise you’re paying $24.99 to go month-to-month.

Paid Alternatives to Adobe Acrobat

If you’re not a fan of Adobe, there are a few other paid alternatives you can try.

NitroPDF, for Windows only, offers a 2 week free trial and costs $159/user thereafter. Another Windows only option is PDF-XChange Editor, which will set you back $54.50. If you don’t feel like paying, it also offers a free version of its software with limited functions.

For Windows and Mac, there is ABBYY FineReader, which costs $199 per license for the Standard package, which allows you to edit, convert, and scan PDFs, or $399 per license for its Corporate package which will also allow you to compare documents to detect text changes and automate PDF conversions. It’s powerful OCR technology and features makes it an attractive option for those of you truly sick of Adobe. ABBYY offers a 30-day free trial of its Corporate version for you to try before you decide to buy.

Another Windows/Mac option is Foxit Phantom PDF. Foxit costs $159 per license for its Pro package and $129 per license for its Standard package, though you can give it a go with a free trial first. Foxit offers many of the same functionalities as Adobe, but was designed for Microsoft Office users, so some of its features can feel a little clunky.

For Mac users, besides trying to use Preview, is PDFExpert, which costs $79.99 for one license that covers 3 macs. It also offers a free version, like many of the other PDF editors out there.

Free Alternatives to Adobe Acrobat

LibreOffice is a free office suite that allow allows you to edit PDFs. Its PDF editing functionalities are limited though. For example, it doesn’t have a function that redacts text.

Other free alternatives are usually online PDF editors, like Sejda, SmallPDF, or PDFescape. While the convenience of the online editors are great for simple tasks, there may be ethical issues to consider. Like, do you really want to upload that confidential document to a third party server to edit it? Online free editors are best used for non-sensitive documents that only need minor corrections.

If you’re in a practice that requires a lot of PDF editing, including redactions or in-page edits, you’re better off investing in a dedicated program that can do what you need on your computer, quickly and securely. The price will be worth the peace of mind.