In 2010, I entered the Cooke County Courthouse in Gainesville, Texas, armed with multiple boxes of exhibits and evidence, a briefcase, dozens of highlighters, pens, yellow legal pads and an iPad. In my mind, I was on the cutting edge of technology, blazing a trail into the unknown by using my new tool in court. Little did I know that others were blazing the same trail. It turns out that attorneys were quick to embrace the ease and versatility of the iPad. However, court systems were not immediately prepared for the influx of the new technology and the way it mushroomed in courtrooms across the country.
As managing partner, I’m always looking for new ways to make my firm better. When I bought my first iPad, I decided that the best way to experiment and see if it was as versatile as it seemed to be was to use it in a high-profile case. The Cooke County case was an experiment. I intended to see if the court would allow me to play a few videos on the iPad through the VLC app while questioning a witness. With the iPad, I could quickly pause the video, replay an exact point and further emphasize what I wanted without the awkward television on a cart and a temperamental DVD player. I could control everything from the palm of my hand—if the court would allow it. The experiment worked. The court did allow me to use my iPad, and the videos and the iPad supplied the dramatic moment in a long custody trial that I ultimately won.
It is obvious that much has changed since the first iPad debuted three years ago. Apple has redeveloped the device multiple times, Microsoft has joined in with the Surface tablet, and other companies are entering the game. As tablet technology has become more sophisticated, attorneys across the country have continued to embrace these advances—and the courts have accepted and adapted.
Some attorneys rely almost exclusively on their iPads in court. At the Law Practice editorial board’s request, we sat down with two of them, Erin Hendricks and Rick Robertson, to discuss how they have transitioned to an iPad-centered practice. Hendricks is a criminal defense lawyer at Erin Hendricks Law in Dallas. She has been using an iPad in court since 2012. After nearly 10 years as a prosecutor in the Dallas District Attorney’s Office, Hendricks opened her own solo criminal defense practice. She has built her practice around her iPad and the versatility it provides her in court.
Robertson is a highly successful family law attorney in the Plano, Texas office of KoonsFuller. He has used an iPad in court since 2010. Robertson has represented numerous high-profile clients, including former Dallas Cowboy Deion Sanders. Sanders’ 2013 divorce included a jury custody trial and was the center of attention for most media and television across the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex. Robertson’s iPad was a vital tool throughout that trial.
Law Practice (LP): Why did you start using an iPad?
Erin Hendricks (EH): In starting my solo practice, I knew I didn’t want bulky paper files for each client. Post-it notes and legal pad scribblings just don’t work when trying to manage a volume of cases on the go, especially without a legal assistant to help me keep up with my work. I wanted to start paperless from the beginning.
Rick Robertson (RR): I bought my first iPad a few months after they were introduced in 2010. Calendar, email and contacts were a simple extension of what I was doing already with my iPhone, so of course I carried it with me to court, depositions, mediations, etc. I also discovered the beauty of Dropbox and its integration with apps like GoodReader, thereby recognizing the ability to use my iPad as my trial notebook, regardless of whether it could connect to the court’s display system for PowerPoint presentations or exhibits.
LP: What has your experience and use been so far?
EH: I use my iPad 2 in every aspect of my practice. My client files are organized on the iPad, and I rely on the iCloud and Dropbox for backup. Within each client file on the iPad, I have the pleadings, correspondence, evidence, discovery, my notes and any additional information broken down into internal folders. My iPad is organized and structured like paper files or a desktop file management system. In conjunction with the iPad, I sync with my iPhone and iMac on a regular basis. This means continuity and efficiency are right at my fingertips.
Having an iPad in court allows for a more consolidated practice. I am able to stay in constant communication with the courts and my clients. I can quickly access court records, the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, as well as use Fastcase while walking between courts.
The only problem I have encountered is the lack of a CD/DVD drive. I often receive discovery tendered on discs and cannot review it until I get back to my desktop. To date, PlayerXtreme is the best media player I’ve come across for the iPad and iPhone.
I rely on Scanner Pro by Readdle to capture and drop documents and screenshots to GoodReader and Dropbox (and import them to a client’s file). These apps help ensure my practice stays paperless when I’m on the move. GoodReader is central to my practice. I use it for client file management, and it uploads directly to Dropbox (though in terms of iCloud backup reliability, it’s spotty, which leaves something to be improved upon in the future). I have started to explore Prezi, a cloud-based presentation software, relatively similar to Keynote and PowerPoint. The main difference with Prezi is that it is more of an interactive experience than a slideshow. I can zoom in, rotate and highlight on the go, which allows for more interaction with the court, the witnesses and the jurors.
RR: The first iPad had many limitations. Connecting the VGA adapter didn’t allow “mirroring” as it would with a normal laptop, and only a few apps, like Keynote and GoodReader, would display. I bought an iPad 2 shortly after it came out. It was a significant improvement, allowing mirroring when connected with a VGA or HDMI adapter, along with being lighter and faster. I still used email, calendaring and contacts all the time but had the added benefit of built-in cameras for FaceTime and Skype. I tried taking notes on the iPad with a variety of styluses but never found that satisfactory. I downloaded Fastcase and eventually Texas Legal for legal research and was pleased to have access to codes, rules, statutes and case law while in the courtroom.
With the iPad 2, I started creating PowerPoint presentations in Apple’s Keynote app and Excel spreadsheets in Apple’s Numbers app. Using Dropbox and GoodReader, I had electronic copies of my exhibits and was able to display them in the courtroom. Other PDF apps, such as PDF Expert, became available and provided flexible methods of highlighting and marking exhibits. But most apps only mirrored what was on the iPad, making it difficult to pull up and think about my next exhibit while one was in use on the display screen.
At some point, I bought a Bluetooth keyboard, which greatly expanded the usefulness of the iPad. Instead of taking notes on a legal pad or laptop during a client conference, I took them on the iPad using the Bluetooth keyboard. The iPad is low-profile enough that it doesn’t create the barrier that exists between a client and me when using my laptop. With my iPad, I can use apps such as Elements for Dropbox, so my notes are instantly stored and available to my staff. They are also easy to retrieve when talking to my client or opposing counsel at a later date.
I store articles, Web pages and other information in Instapaper, which is accessible from my desktop, laptop, iPad or smartphone, and it doesn’t matter whether the device is PC, Mac, Android or Windows.
I started using TrialPad in 2012 and found it to be an excellent courtroom tool. TrialPad allows the user to freeze or close what is displayed on monitors and screens while working on another exhibit. It also has features like call-outs, whiteboard and highlighting, along with the ability to show video, play audio, and display JPEGs, PDFs, etc. You can create and display annotated exhibits and then save them as important documents.
I bought an iPad 3 shortly after it was released but was disappointed with the extra weight and different feel. By now I was using my iPad for most courtroom work: witness notes; exhibits (even if they weren’t being projected); access to complete client files, including pleadings, correspondence, depositions, discovery, etc.; and on-the-fly legal research. The search and bookmark features in GoodReader and other PDF apps allowed me to summarize and annotate depositions and transcripts faster and easier, and to view annotations created on a desktop or laptop with Adobe Acrobat.
LP: Has a court disallowed your iPad?
EH: I found it best to notify the court that I may need to reference my client notes or file during a plea so as to avoid any question or concern of wrongdoing. As I mainly practice in Dallas County, many of the judges are now aware that I may reference my iPad but I make sure to notify the court each time, before the action commences. I was initially nervous about using my iPad in federal court since they are generally stricter about electronics in the courtroom than state courts are. However, I have not encountered a problem.
RR: I have never had a judge object to or disallow the use of my iPad in trial, but I commonly mention beforehand that I’ll be using it during the course of trial. I do email and text when in the courtroom—when I know the bench will not object.
LP: When have you used your iPad in a case?
EH: I use it in every case, every client meeting and every court appearance.
RR: Because I use an iPad in virtually all my cases, I have obviously relied upon it in several large cases, including all my trial work in Deion Sanders’ divorce, both in a custody jury trial and in an arbitration regarding the validity of the prenuptial agreement. The latter was document-intensive and involved experts testifying from many exhibits to analyze Ms. Sanders’ handwriting. In the jury trial, I used Keynote for opening and closing statements, and controlled the iPad from my iPhone using Keynote Remote. I displayed all manner of exhibits, including videos, all with my iPad, again with no problems.
Legal practice has adapted and continues to embrace new technology. The iPad is here to stay as a tool in a mobile office, and it is likely to become a necessity for litigators. As firms and counties move to paperless practice, a tablet makes more sense each day. Apple is expected to release a new iPad with at least an 11.4-inch screen this spring. As the iPad and other tablets become more popular in court, one wonders what the next technological advance will be that will turn attorneys’ heads. Whatever it is, you can be sure that these Texas attorneys will be ready to test it in court.