In the legal world PDFs are often seen as the ideal replacement for paper-based systems. But as many have discovered digital workflows underpinned by PDFs come with their own set of challenges.

So what are the drawbacks of PDFs?

PDFs sent by email are not secure

Security is paramount to the legal profession. Yet once a PDF is emailed the audit trail is lost. Access to documents is no longer recorded, and you end up reproducing all the old insecurities associated with paper.

PDFs replace the physical onslaught with a digital deluge

Replacing a paper process with an equivalent electronic process simply results in an equally or, in some cases, a more unmanageable burden with endless PDF updates that offer little or no efficiency gains.

PDF lacks version control

In the trial process it is essential that all parties work from the latest version of the evidential documentation. PDFs cannot guarantee this. Do you know which is the latest version? Does anyone? Have the right parties been told there is a new version? A party may be working from outdated pagination (extremely frustrating for a barrister) or they may not have had sight of key evidence until they are in court.

PDFs cannot cope with modern evidence

Video, audio and spreadsheets do not work well in PDFs. That means sensitive data has to be stored as separate files outside the PDF bundle, often in an unsecure manner. The more files you have, the harder they are to manage.

Viewing PDFs through virtual data rooms often means downloading

A virtual data room does deliver some security and efficiency. But it is simply a secure place to store PDFs and other digital evidence. Files are often downloaded for viewing. Saving files onto hard drives becomes common practice – continually placing sensitive data at risk.

Large PDFs are hard to share

Large PDF files are difficult to manage, which creates a key problem if you want to share a large case or a specific piece of information. All too often evidence is split up, or printed – again putting sensitive information at risk.

Annotations in PDFs can be lost with each new version

Merging PDFs to retain annotations across all versions of a document is a never-ending task. Added to that there is a high risk that annotations can easily be lost by mistake.

PDF redaction isn’t always real redaction

Some PDF redaction tools do not truly redact information. This flaw allows people access to redacted information, leaving the data controller none the wiser. A simple copy and paste or the right piece of software might be all anyone needs to view supposedly redacted information within a PDF.

PDF pagination does not add up

PDF page numbers do not match up with legal evidence pagination. To solve this problem lawyers are forced to continually update their records of the bundle page number as well as the PDF page number.

PDF searches can be inaccurate

When a PDF has not been OCR’d properly it can deliver incorrect search results. This can lead to key evidence being missed when preparing for a case.

Handwriting baffles PDFs

PDFs cannot search through handwritten evidence. That becomes a major problem when you consider that most legal documents contain page after page of key facts or information that’s been added by hand.

Move Forward – not Back

In trying to solve the problems of paper too many people have simply transferred them to PDF systems. Then they encounter the many limitations of PDFs themselves. Far from solving their problems, they compound them.

Technological innovation should enhance legacy systems, not replicate their original problems – or add new ones.

What is needed is a system that has been custom built to answer the unique needs of the legal profession. That means a cloud-based system that protects and keeps evidence in one place to offer a single point of truth from upload to review, and even on to trial.

So while PDFs may have their place, the legal world is not it!