Someone sent me a PDF the other day, needing it quickly turned into an editable file (Microsoft Word or some similar format). Our organization long ago dropped a PDF editor from the standard software installed on our PCs so I had to hunt for an alternative. It was too big for one of the sites I’ve mentioned here before, but I was able to use NewOCR.com to convert it.
Another question that comes up is how to merge multiple documents – Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, etc. – into a single PDF. This is another simple online task with free PDF tools on a site run by Eged Software. You can upload the files you want to merge and save them as a PDF. The Eged tools will also convert from PDF to text, allow you to rotate, and convert photos to PDF. If you are on the go and have access to the Internet but not your PDF editor (Adobe, of course, but also Nitro or PDF995), this can be an efficient way to perform some basic PDF manipulation.
The major legal publishers do not seem to have much vision when it comes to their legal research apps (here and here) but there are some gems in their news tools. The free Thomson Reuters News Pro tool is mostly just press releases and I didn’t think it is particularly helpful, although it was nice to see an app that had been developed for Android as well as for the Apple products.
One iPhone only app that is legal specific (and not listed on the list of Westlaw-related apps and mobile sites on the Westlaw Web site, above) is the Westlaw News and Insight app for iPhone and iPad, powered by Reuters Legal. It has national (US) legal news, bankruptcy news, and California and securities litigation updates. It is full content, without needing a password, and is a great resource if you practice in the areas covered. The national news section actually covers many practice areas, so there is likely to be some relevant content for just about any lawyer.
Westlaw US News and Insights: National Legal News
Some of the content has hyperlinks, outside the app and to public Web sites. Funnily enough, Westlaw hasn’t bothered to include links to its own content, like a case mentioned in the text. This would seem to be an obvious opportunity to get people to access content within their proprietary environment.
Case Citation in Westlaw News and Insights App Not Hyperlinked
The app is not limited to news, however, and I was impressed by their inclusion of court documents. These are provided as full text, scanned PDFs so that you can get directly to the source after reading about a case.
Westlaw News and Insight Case Document PDF with Magnifying Glass
All in all, a good app to add to your Apple portable device and see if it becomes a part of your research toolkit. It takes advantage of browsing, which is a nice change to the rather limited search on other legal research apps.
Most online legal information is text: case law, statutes, blog posts, whatever. But there are times that text isn’t really text, and that can make it hard to manage once you have found it. Take a PDF, for example. If it is made from a Microsoft Word document, chances are it has retained its text format, so that you can index and search it. But if someone has created PDFs from a scanned image, even one that presents text when you read it, you might find retrieving it again difficult. When a PDF contains pictures as representations of text, rather than text, you can’t keyword search it with Google Desktop, X1, or your other desktop search tools.
One way around this is to use an online OCR tool to run the scanned image through optical character recognition. This will convert the text in the document into something that can be searched later. Here’s an example. A document from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was scanned into PDF, yielding a picture of a text file. First, you download the file to your computer and then you go to a site like Free Online OCR, highlighted by MakeUseOf. You identify the file you downloaded as the file to convert, select the output format (you can even put it BACK into PDF when finished) and click the convert button.
Here’s a quick screencast of how that works:
There are other free online OCR sites that you can retrieve with a quick Web search. Some, like onlineocr.net use file limitations to throttle usage, so you may want to hunt around if you end up needing to OCR more than 15-20 documents per hour on a regular basis. As I mention in the screencast, you will be uploading these files during the conversion process. If you are not comfortable having the files hosted on a remote server and out of your control, you may want to look for OCR software to install. But since much of what you find on the Internet during your research will be public knowledge, this shouldn’t impact your use of free OCR resources.
If you use Google Docs, there is built-in OCR. Click on the Upload… button and you will be prompted to select files. Select the option to convert text from PDF or image and select your files. As Google uploads the files to your Google Docs accounts, it will perform OCR on the files. It’s a great alternative to the other services, since your files end up in your file system as soon as the upload completes.