The joy of PDF

Format-wise, PDF is a no-brainer. Getting stuff into PDF format isn’t too much of a pain, either.

Some might well wonder why I’m even discussing the pros and cons of PDF as a standard file format for papers and such. After all, it’s pretty much the standard. Has been for years.

Admittedly I’m old enough to remember arguments within GeekWorld about whether Adobe should really be allowed to define such a fundamental standard, but the market spoke. And those days are long gone.

So why am I bothering to write this?

Because, as we all know, PDFs aren’t all we get. For any given case, you’re likely also to get one or more of:

  • Word documents
  • Excel spreadsheets (depending on subject matter)
  • RTFs sometimes (for the uninitiated, it’s a non-Microsoft text document format, which can open in Word – but will usually open in Notepad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac) unless you tell the machine to do otherwise
  • Pictures, of one format or another, and
  • Curse them, Outlook emails as attachments to other emails.

I’ll admit it – for many people, this last one isn’t so bad. They open fine in Mail or Outlook on a Mac. But I don’t use either as a rule, other than as a means of opening precisely these messages. And in any case, digging through the nested attachments is a nightmare.

As for laying hold of them when you’re madly cramming for a case, or (worse still) half way through one: forget it.

The only sensible solution, I’d say, is to save everything into a single case folder. I keep everything in OneDrive for Business – which costs me about £45 a year for a terabyte of storage space, encrypted at rest and thus GDPR-happy, and can easily be accessed from any device I happen to be using. (Cloud storage is something we’ll keep for another day, so I’ll say no more.)

And here’s where we get back to PDFs. Sure, I keep Word documents and so on in their original form, stored in the case folder. But I convert EVERYTHING which isn’t already a PDF – emails, pleadings, spreadsheets, pix, authorities, you name it – into one. That way, I can mark everything up the same way, index and scribble on it, and generally stop thinking about the tech and get on with the case.

How to turn things into PDFs?

On a Mac, this is pretty simple. Simply hit Print (from the File menu, from Command-P, or from a button onscreen) and you’ll see a wee drop-down menu labelled “PDF” in the bottom left hand corner. Click on that, choose “Save to PDF”, and you’re away. Give the file a nice helpful name – I start with the date on the document in yyyymmdd format, because that means everything’s naturally in chronological order, and then add a few descriptive words. So you end up with something like “20200325 email from sol re limitation.pdf”. Perfect. Some apps will also let you save or export to PDF, but this way always works.

On iOS, the most consistent way is to go to Print, at which point you’ll get a preview of your document. “Spread” it with two fingers so it expands to fill the screen, then hit the “Share” button (the one that usually looks like a box with an arrow coming out the top) and save it wherever you like. Straight into your PDF app, or into cloud storage, probably. (If you’re clever, you can set up a shortcut to convert-and-save all in one. I haven’t bothered – I probably should…)

On a PC, most “Save As…” dialogues will have a drop-down menu for “Format” or “Save as type”. These will usually have a PDF option. Choose it, and you’re golden.

And then I bung everything into a single PDF file – and there’s my bundle.

Others will do it differently. Which is fine – everyone has their own workflow. But if you’re new to this, I urge you to give the all-PDF, all-the-time method a whirl.

Next time: now you’ve got your PDFs. What are you going to use to read them?