21 March 2005

Mandated Filing in PDF Format

The Virginia Supreme has mandated that for this year certain appellate paperwork must be filed through email in PDF format.

When one files a petition for appeal in Virginia's Court of Appeals it is generally denied and a short order explaining the reasons for the denial is sent. If the party disagrees with the reasoning he asks for an in-person review by real, live judges and must file a one page explanation of what the Judge who wrote the order got wrong. Then you go explain it in person and try to get the case heard.

Comes now a new Rule of the Supreme Court of Virginia: 5A-15A. This Rule, which is only in place for this year, requires the one page explanation to be filed electronically, as an attachment to email, in PDF format.

Now, as far as I can tell, this Rule isn't online with the other Rules on the Legislature's site. And, so far I haven't had to do this (give me a couple months). In fact, I didn't even know about the new rule until today. How did I find out? An attorney who is less proficient with computers than I am was asking me how to convert her document into PDF in order to send it (my knowledge of computers compared to a 16 year old is probably weak but compared to some of my colleagues I sometimes feel like I could write source code for the Mars Lander). Later, before I went and checked it myself, another attorney confirmed the existence of this Rule and told me he had to go buy a $75 program in order to convert his files to PDF.

First, addressing the Rule itself: (A) Why mandate that this must be done electronically by all attorneys? I know guys who don't even have email accounts who practice law quite well (and it ain't only the older gentlemen). These people are going to have fits trying to adapt to this Rule. Is opening a letter and filing it that much more difficult than opening an email attachment, printing it out, and filing it? Don't get me wrong, I like the idea as an alternative method of delivery but see no great advantage to it.

(B) Why PDF? Have they never heard of RTF? RTF comes standard with every wordprocessor I've bought in the last ten years and it's usually available for the better ones found as freeware or shareware. PDF is not so readily available. Why choose a less available format? People always seem to forget that RTF is out there.

Second, solutions: Okay, all you panicking Virginia lawyers out there, I have a simple solution. Go to OpenOffice.org and download the free program (and if you're good people send them a few donations). You'll probably want to change its settings so that it saves in DOC format rather than its own format. Open Office has a number of programs but I use only the wordprocessor (I'm told the others work just as well as it does). If you use this wordprocessor for a while you'll probably never go back to Word. It is far better designed, easier to use, and provides you with better options.

In particular, at the very top, center (next to the printer symbol) is an icon of a sheet of paper with PDF at its bottom. Once your document is prepared you can hit that button and it will be saved in PDF format. No muss, no fuss. And you don't have to go spend $75 for a special program to do it for you.

Go get OpenOffice right now. The Court may impose flawed Rules but that doesn't mean it has to effect your pocket book. I'd like to see the Rules to continue to develop in this direction, but, hopefully they will allow for filings in the alternative (possible) and change the required format (doubtful).


Windypundit said...

Of course, to someone like a clerk who's just printing the document, PDF is one of the easiest formats to use. For practical purposes, PDF is defined as "What the Adobe Reader uses," and the Adobe Reader is a free download to all who want it.

One problem with word processing files is that loading one into a different program (or even different version) than created it will likely change its appearance. With PDF you can count on your document looking the same to everyone who uses it.

You're right about people forgetting about RTF. I once emailed a bunch of resumes which I formatted as RTF to make them easy to read using whatever software the recipient had. I got no replies. I wonder if they didn't know what it was and never even tried to load it into a word processor.

Anonymous said...

1.) There is also a free opensource package called "PDFCreator" that runs on windows and provides a virtual printer that creates PDF. This can be used in combination with any windows application that can use a printer.

2.) PDF is also on track to become an official ISO recommendation as an archival format for documents. This is driven by the desire for a format that is well enough defined to be stable and reproducable for decades, and able to capture text, graphics, and images.

Ken Lammers said...

Well, I can understand the use of PDF with things that have graphics but not really with regular word processor documents which are going to be printed out and put in the file anyway. RTF is easier because of its universal availability to anyone with a word processor. I think Mark has it right, Adobe has done a masterful job of marketing itself so that Clerks offices don't even look to something like RTF.

Actually, I don't have a problem with PDF use because there may be times when graphics are needed in some future document courts allow to be electronically filed. However, they ought to also allow filing with RTF for simple documents (and maybe even TXT). The reason they won't? Because nobody has an economic interest in RTF.

I tried to find and download the program you indicated. After bouncing through several web pages I downloaded what proclaimed itself as PDF Creator but it wouldn't unzip (compression format unrecognized). While I was trying to reccomend as simple a solution as possible for people who don't have much computer knowledge (and think this might be a little complex) I'm very interested in this for my personal use. If you have a link I would appreciate it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about pdf creator, but cutepdf writer has the same functionality and is also free. Link here:


Anonymous said...

I downloaded PDFCreator from http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=57796&package_id=53473&release_id=228013
You need the AFPL exe and the patch exe.

The AFPL version is slightly newer than the GNU version.

These files claim to be .exe's and acted like that on my system. The .zip is the actual source code.

The reasons for PDF being preferred over RTF are functional. The potential financial advantage to Adobe is actually a significant negative in the ISO discussions. But the licensing terms on PDF explicitly grant universal non-exclusive cost free licenses to all applicable patents when used for PDF, as well as generous licenses for the copyright on the PDF standard.

The difference RTF vs PDF is the degree of control over the precise presentation. With PDF I can specify that this document is on A4 paper, with precisely located text, with exactly the fonts for characters that I want, etc. Logo's, etc. can be conveyed. The document can be digitally signed. The color characteristics can be specified. Plus there is the ability to incorporate pictures and graphics.

So PDF is being recommended for archive. Preserving and re-establishing the font, spacing, etc., for RTF (30+ years from now) was thought much harder than using the PDF mechanisms for specifying and encapsulating such information.