Splitting, Merging & Unitization

You've received one 1,000 page PDF that includes over one hundred documents.  Or you've received 5,000 pages of medical records, saved as one page PDFs.  What should you do to right-size your PDFs?  How should you segment your documents to be most useful for attorney and litigation team review?

Litigation support professionals refer to this issue as 'document unitization' or the setting of document boundaries, and it involves determining where one document ends and the next document begins.  A closely entwined issue relates to document attachments: should attachments be part of the same or a different document.  If an attachment will be treated as a different document, how will the document and attachments be related as part of a retrieval system?

We offer these tips:

Merge PDFs with Adobe Acrobat.  Acrobat Standard and Acrobat Professional are the pay versions of the ubiquitous free Adobe Acrobat reader.  Merging PDF files with AcrobatIf you have Acrobat Standard or Acrobat Professional, you have the tools needed to split and merge PDFs, even if they may be hard to discern in Acrobat's sometimes elusive user interface.

To merge PDF files, select 'Create PDFs from multiple files, and then select the files to be merged and their order. Acrobat then saves the files into a new PDF.


Split PDF Litigation SupportSplitting PDFs with Adobe Acrobat.  Acrobat Standard and Professional offer a couple of ways to split PDF files.  If you wish to separate a PDF into single pages, you can do so from the Document>Extract Pages menu.  Specific individual pages can then be re-combined into new PDFs.   Alternatively, a PDF with selected pages can be created with the Acrobat print driver.  To make a PDF this way, open up the PDF to be split, and select File>Print.  On the print menu box, select the pages of the smaller PDF you wish to create.  For example, if you print pp. 1-32 of a 100 page PDF, you will create a smaller PDF, effectively splitting it.

Split PDFs Using Free PDF Print Drivers.  There are a number of free PDF print drivers available.  With these programs PDFs can be effectively split as part of the printing process, as described with Adobe Acrobat above.   Here are several programs to look at:

  • PrimoPDF: PDF Print Driver
  • PDF995:  Includes an advertisement before printing 
  • OpenOffice: is a free open source office program, and allows files to be saved as PDFs.

Split and Merge PDFs with 3rd party Specialty Utilities.  The file splitting procedures above using Adobe Acrobat or third-party print drivers are cumbersome and inefficient.  To fill the void there are numerous PDF splitting and merging utilities that make these chores much easier.  Features include splitting and merging by multiple page ranges, updating of bookmarks, and batch operations.  If you have very many PDFs to split and merge, these utilities will be well worth the purchase price. Here are several to look at:  

Another good alternative is NitroPDF Professional.  NitroPDF positions itself as a less expensive Acrobat Professionals alternative ($99) and it will merge and split PDF files among other functions.  

Think Through Document Unitization Ahead of Time.  It's a lot easier to create documents with the proper document breaks, than to separate or merge them later.  Whoever is scanning documents should be given instructions as to proper document separation.  Many scanning systems accept a blank page or a bar-coded page as a document break indicator that automatically creates a new PDF file.  Often, document break determinations depend upon the specific review needs and may vary from case to case.

Think How Attachments Will be Handled.  One tricky area of document unitizations involves attachments to documents.  Should attachments be part of the main document or a separate document?  If attachments are saved as separate documents they should in some manner be associated with the main document.    One way to do this is with file names, such as the following:

  • Merger Agreement dated 3/1/2005.pdf
  • Merger Agreement dated 3/1/2005, Exhibit A.pdf
  • Merger Agreement dated 3/1/2005, Exhibit B.pdf

This allows the documents and attachments to be dealt with as separate documents, but then associated through the file names.

These tips are sponsored by Lexbe.com, a web-based litigation case management, discovery production and document review application. Lexbe.com works with over 100 file formats, including PDFs.  For more information, click here.