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Acrobat Wizard at Work: Molly DiBianca, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor

As a litigator, briefs and similar court filings are a critical part of my legal practice.  And Adobe Acrobat is a critical part of the way that I prepare briefs.  I use Acrobat to make the process more efficient and, in turn, am able to keep my focus on what’s important—the legal argument.  Here are a few of the ways I put Acrobat to work.

Gathering Research

Research for a legal brief begins long before the first draft is written. There may be an initial gathering of relevant decisions at the outset of a new case.  Based on the facts as we know them at the beginning of a new matter, we may assemble a large arsenal of decisions that set out the elements of the relevant claims and the burdens of proof for each.  The decisions are saved in PDF format and annotated with Acrobat’s commenting tools, such as sticky notes and the highlighter.  The decisions are combined as a single PDF with the name of each bookmarked for easy reference. 

As litigation continues, new decisions are added to the master research file for future reference. 

When it’s time to begin the first draft, the highlighting and annotations mean I don’t need to re-read each opinion to locate the relevant portions.  Already, Adobe has saved me significant time.

Draft Review

After I have completed a meaningful draft, it is printed to PDF and circulated for comment.  This may involve comments from the client, co-counsel, or others on the litigation team.  But regardless of how many people need to review the draft, by sending the document in PDF, we avoid confusion about which version is in circulation and prevent the inevitable problems that occur when multiple people attempt to edit a single word-processing document.  Instead, comments can be inserted and reviewed without any risk to the original document.

There are times, though, that a reviewing party wants access to the original, editable version of the document.  For example, if they want to reorder the sections of an argument to see how it reads before suggesting that they should be changed.  For those situations, I can simply attach the original document to the PDF version.  The reviewer can open the attachment to change the document as needed. But comments are returned in the PDF for integration into the subsequent versions.

Document Assembly

When the brief is nearing its final draft, it’s time to gather the necessary exhibits.  Because all of my files are kept electronically in our document-management system, this process is surprisingly uncomplicated.  As I’m writing, I pull the documents that will be exhibits and save them in a folder.  Once the brief is in final form, the exhibits are combined into a single document.  I prefer to identify each exhibit in two ways.

First, we insert a “slip sheet” between each exhibit. The slip sheet is simply a single page with the exhibit number centered on the page and written in very large font.  When flipping through pages, slip sheets are easy to spot and make it easier to identify when an exhibit starts and the next one begins.  Second, we use Rick Borstein’s exhibit stamp to mark the exhibits themselves with the appropriate number.

Once the exhibits have been assembled, it’s time for the final touches.  Sometimes, this means adding continuous page numbers.  Other times, it means adding a footer to indicate that the documents are being filed under seal pursuant to court order.  These requirements vary by court but, with Adobe, it couldn’t be easier to make any necessary changes.

With the exhibits assembled, the brief is printed to PDF and the exhibit document simply inserted after the final page of the document.  No printing and re-scanning required.  This step alone saves a tremendous amount of time, prevents the accidental omission of a page in the final scanning and keeps the file size to a minimum, which is particularly important for e-filing.

Molly DiBianca is paperless attorney, employment-law lawyer, early adopter, employee-engagement evangelist and blogger. She works at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor. You can follow on Twitter @MollyDiBi or her blog on going paperless at:  Have a great wizard story on how Acrobat has inspired your work? Share it with us in the blog comments, we’d love to hear from you. Stay tuned for more upcoming Wizards in our Acrobat Wizards at Work blog series.

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