In the online environment, PDF documents are everywhere. Brochures, newsletters, instruction manuals, and digital magazines are just a few of the publication types that are commonly presented as PDFs. These documents can display text, images, graphics, and non-standard font types, typically in a fixed format that cannot be altered. This is an advantage when sending a document that needs to be protected from modifications by another user. It's also a design that works well for self-help legal forms, including those that we in the Law Library access on a daily basis from TexasLawHelp.org and the Harris County District Clerk's website.
Presenting DIY legal forms in PDF makes sense, as it preserves the document format and the arrangement of the content on the page. However, the forms published on the two websites mentioned above are not fillable. That is, the content on the page is static and the fields it contains cannot be populated with data. The space designated for Petitioner, for example, does not allow the user to type in his or her name. Instead, the forms are meant to be printed on paper and filled out by hand. This design works well for self-help legal forms, and, as long as the handwritten information is legible, the courts are happy to accept the documents as is. In some instances and for other types of documents, including legal drafts, you may find a need to add modifications such as markups, highlighting, white-out, or type-written text. Purchasing expensive PDF editing software is one way to add this functionality to otherwise fixed-format documents, but free alternatives do exists, a few of which are mentioned below.
PDFescape, FormSwift, PDF Buddy, and DocHub are four cloud-based document editors that allow you to upload PDF files and alter them with signatures and other markups. A brief description of each is available here. Another useful PDF tool is SandwichPDF.com. It applies Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to uploaded files and effectively converts any non-searchable PDF to a fully searchable document with cut and paste capabilities.
The beauty of the tools mentioned here is their price (FREE!) and their low barrier to entry -- they require no software installation, no registration, and no password protection, and they can easily be used on demand, at the time of need. In addition, you can almost always drag and drop your PDF documents into whichever editing tool you are using, or you can paste in the URL of your chosen PDF, saving you the trouble of first downloading a document to your own computer before uploading it to the website. With all the functionality offered by these tools -- for editing, splicing, combining, and securing documents, and for converting them to searchable text -- fixed-format PDFs become more adaptable and dynamic, two useful features for anyone in need of greater versatility at an affordable price.