From the Jan/Feb 2005 Issue

Getting to know Adobe ".pdf" Files
by Steven Shaw

The following article is reprinted with the permission of the Washington Trial Lawyers Association.

Since the federal courts have changed over their filing system from paper to electronic, many attorneys have had to go kicking and screaming. In the midst of the tantrum, many are asking the question, ".pd-what?"

What is PDF? ".pdf" is a file extension for the files created by software from Adobe Acrobat. A file extension is the suffix that gets added (by the software) to the name you give a file when you create it, the same as ".doc" designates a Word file or ".wpd" designates a WordPerfect file. File extensions are needed to help a computer to figure out what program understands that file.

The courts chose Adobe Acrobat ".pdf" files (PDF's) because they are very difficult to alter. This is because it's not an editable document, like a word processing file. It's actually an image of your word processing document. This way anyone can read it, but no one can really alter it. I say really, because you can get really technical and make changes, but the document keeps track of those changes and will give you away if you try. Smart, huh?

So, if the court wants them that way, how do I get my Word or WordPerfect document into PDF format? You get the software that converts word processing documents into PDF format. A-ha, you say, this is going to cost me. Well, you can actually get software from the Internet that costs little to nothing that will convert a Word or WordPerfect document into PDF format. I suggest going to typing "convert pdf" in the search tool. You'll get a huge list of programs that will do the job. Of course, you can also buy the full version of Adobe Acrobat that does the conversion and many, many, many other things, but it will run you about $300 retail. Worth it if you really want to get into this stuff, but not so if all you want to do is file in federal court.

But what about your exhibits you ask? For those, you will need a scanner. A scanner is a device much like a photocopier, which takes a "picture" of whatever you put on it and saves it as a file on your computer. Most scanners come with software that will actually scan your document directly into a PDF file, allowing you to save it right along with your pleading. Make sure you get one that has an automatic document feeder (ADF), or you will waste lots of time getting that 20-page document into your computer.

For more information on how to master this process, go to the US District Court's Electronic Filing website at:

Steven Shaw, WSTLA EAGLE member, is an associate at the LePley Law Firm in Bellevue. He is the Co-chair of WSTLA's New Member Committee.


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