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GPSolo Magazine

GPSolo May/June 2024: The Changing Face of Evidence

Using an iPad to Present Electronic Evidence in the Courtroom

Brett Burney


  • Thanks to the iPad and associated apps, presenting evidence in the courtroom requires a smaller team and much less upheaval than was necessary in the past.
  • There are two basic methods for presenting from an iPad: wired and wireless.
  • You don’t need a presentation-specific app to show documents on the iPad. Adobe Acrobat Reader or PDF Expert will suffice in certain scenarios.
  • For more dynamic needs, consider dedicated presentation apps such as TrialPad, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Keynote.
Using an iPad to Present Electronic Evidence in the Courtroom

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Just a few years ago, setting up to present in a courtroom required a small flotilla of equipment and resources, not to mention a measured dose of technical acumen. But fortunately, thanks to the Apple iPad and associated presentation apps, everything can now be accomplished with a much smaller team and much less upheaval.

The goal is to successfully get your message across to the judge or jury audience in the most effective manner. This requires you to be comfortable with the relevant tools and technology. Gone are the days when lawyers could laugh off their lack of tech-savviness as an excuse for not taking full advantage of the latest technology that’s literally right at their fingertips. Today’s tools are accessible and approachable, and many times it’s the simplest technologies that can make a tremendous difference.

In this article, we’ll first briefly explore the modern-day file types and documents that need to be presented, and then we’ll walk through the technologies that can be effortlessly and effectively deployed in conjunction with an iPad in today’s courtroom (and other) environments.

The Adapting Definition of a “Document”

It’s a safe assumption today that every printed document we encounter comes from a digital file unless we’re talking microfiche, a handwritten note, or a land deed from the 1800s. If you’re holding a piece of paper in your hand, it was probably printed from a Microsoft Word document or a PDF file. We live and work in a digital world, but we often insist on forcing digital files into an 8 1/2” x 11” physical dimension (or 8 1/2” x 14” in the legal world).

But working with digital files means they’re more approachable, and they can be searched and organized for quick retrieval whenever you need them. For example, when a trial team needs to pull up a document, there’s no reason they should have to flip through three-ring binders or dig through a stack of bankers boxes—it should simply be an exercise of accessing a file listing or filtering a database on their laptop or iPad.

Another point of discomfort is how to define the “original” file in today’s digital world when the “original” document or file is a set of ones and zeroes that have been programmatically composed to appear as an email. Then, add on the layer of social communication media, and it quickly gets overwhelming. For example, one person may send an initial email, but the recipient may instead reply via text message. Next, one might share a link to a cloud-based Google Doc, where the other person adds comments, and then the two collaborate on Slack. Which of these communications are considered an “original” under the traditional concept of a “document”? Today, we’re not so much creating documents as information and collaboration artifacts that don’t easily lend themselves to old definitions and old presentation technology.

Understanding How the iPad Becomes a Viable Presentation Tool

Historically, trial presentation setups required high-end Windows laptops to host databases and show documents and video clips. Sophisticated software and trained individuals (known as hotseaters) were necessary to create callouts, highlight text, annotate documents, and generally ensure all the equipment worked properly. But today, the iPad has enough storage space and computing horsepower to accomplish all the necessary tasks without the troublesome overhead. Trial litigators using an iPad are simply more efficient, organized, and streamlined. Most attorneys can control the presentations themselves right from their iPad, and the wireless presentation option means less mess without all the wire and cable spaghetti.

Presenting information from an iPad doesn’t require a lot of equipment. There are two basic methods for presenting from an iPad: wired and wireless. The “wired” method is similar to presenting from a laptop, in which there is a VGA or HDMI cable between the laptop and the projector or widescreen TV. Many laptops today are so thin they don’t have a built-in VGA or HDMI port, so you need to use a USB-C adapter. A similar adapter can be used with an iPad to mirror its screen to a projector or widescreen TV. You can purchase such adapters directly from Apple or from other vendors. It is imperative to have these wired adapters as a backup even if you plan to present wirelessly.

The wireless method of presenting from an iPad requires the use of an Apple TV, a small black box sold by Apple that connects via an HDMI cable to a TV. Most people use it to watch YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and other streaming services. But because the Apple TV is also an AirPlay receiver, you can use it via WiFi to mirror your iPad’s screen onto the TV. You simply access the Control Center on the iPad, tap Screen Mirroring, and select the Apple TV. By default, the Apple TV will mirror the iPad screen, but special presentation modes are initiated when you use presentation apps such as Microsoft PowerPoint and TrialPad (more on these presentation apps below).

A laptop can act as an AirPlay receiver as well with the use of Reflector software (it works on both Mac and Windows laptops). Once you connect the laptop to a VGA or HDMI cable, it can sit on a table or podium and run Reflector, which acts as a pass-through for your iPad screen. So long as the laptop and iPad are connected to the same wireless network, such as a local network or phone hot spot, the iPad can wirelessly present through the laptop to the projector or widescreen TV. Some may ask why you should use an iPad in this situation if you have a laptop connected, but using the iPad lets you move around the room and more compellingly control what is being presented. This setup also works great for using an iPad in virtual/remote presentations over Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Zoom itself has some built-in modes to share your iPad screen, but Reflector allows you to better see the Zoom controls while you’re giving a presentation. Microsoft Teams also has some additional options for showing your shared screen behind you while your image is in front.

The App-solutely Best Apps for Presenting from an iPad

You don’t need a presentation-specific app to show documents on the iPad, although it certainly helps. For example, if you only need to show a PDF file and do some basic highlights, you could simply open the file in apps such as Adobe Acrobat Reader or PDF Expert. These free apps are limited in that you can’t do callouts or certain other annotations, but they work well in certain scenarios.

Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote work wonderfully on the iPad. These apps are designed for “linear” presentations, in which you place your slides in a specific order to show your first slide, then advance to the next slide, then the next slide, and so on. You can do some “live” annotations on the slides as you tap through, but it’s not as easy as in other apps. The best feature of using an iPad to control a PowerPoint presentation is that the current slide can show on the projector while the iPad shows the current and next slide along with any speaker notes that you included for the slide. This allows you to be much more prepared for slide transitions without missing a beat.

For more dynamic needs, the TrialPad app is specifically designed for pulling up a PDF document or image file and seamlessly creating callouts, highlights, annotations, redactions, and more. On the iPad, attorneys have a digital palette of presentation tools at their fingertips, while the audience sees only a simplified view of the document with no distracting tools or functions. Attorneys can use their fingers or an Apple Pencil to create a rectangular callout on a paragraph in the document and then highlight a word or sentence. Attorneys can do this in real time, or they can pre-annotate documents (TrialPad calls these annotated versions “Key Docs”). There’s also a virtual laser pointer built into the TrialPad app.

The TrialPad app is easy to learn and control. If there is an objection about a document, you can tap the “Blank” button to immediately show a blank screen to the audience. And when you’re ready to show another document, tapping the “Present” button presents it on the screen. TrialPad also allows you to play audio and video clips, although, depending on the courtroom infrastructure, you might need to bring and set up additional equipment or speakers.

Other apps on the iPad can be used to create images or visuals that can be pulled into PowerPoint or TrialPad. For example, you can take screenshots of Google Maps or Street View to pinpoint locations, or you can use the iPad’s built-in Screen Recording function to record your interactions with a human anatomy app (such as the amazing Essential Anatomy 5). By default, these files will be saved to your Photos app, where they can be imported and inserted into a PowerPoint slide or as an exhibit in TrialPad. You can also use the Keynote app on the iPad to create a family tree visual or a helpful timeline that can be exported as an image and then pulled into TrialPad.

The Future in Floating Clouds

All these apps offer deeper layers of features, but even just understanding the basics can make a huge difference in streamlining the time, equipment, and resources needed for effective presentations. The iPad has truly become a game-changer in this arena, although it’s not the only game in town. There are certainly some cases that are so complex and demanding that it still makes sense to lug in the equipment and have a professional trial presentation consultant manage the logistical undertaking. Don’t take on more stress than you need to for a high-profile trial.

While there are still the traditional Windows-based software programs for trial presentations, including Trial Director, Sanction, and OnCue, there is also a cloud-based option called Nextpoint, which can run on almost any computer or device that has a web browser. (In full transparency, I work closely with Nextpoint as their eLaw Evangelist.)

Nextpoint offers both a Discovery Suite for e-discovery document review as well as a Litigation Suite for hosting transcripts and exhibits. From any database in Nextpoint, you will find a tiny projector screen icon next to a document that allows you to immediately show that file in “Theater Mode,” which will open a blank browser tab with the document front and center. You can then create a callout on a paragraph and highlight pertinent text. Because Nextpoint is cloud-based, you do need a reliable connection to the Internet to use it.

You Are the Presentation, Not the Slides

Lastly, it should go without saying that none of this technology matters if the presenter isn’t confident in what he or she is trying to present. The best tools in the world can’t make up for a lack of planning or strategy. While today’s tools may not require the same time and technical intensity as those from a few years ago, it is still absolutely critical to make sure the trial team is comfortable with the technology so they don’t waste time figuring things out in court. That also goes for making sure you know how to recover when screens go blank or the sound cuts out—because that will happen at some point, and you must be ready to reboot or reset and keep going.

Just remember that you are the presentation, not the slides—no amount of technology or tools can make up for poor storytelling. The slides are there to supplement and support your points. For example, keep text minimal on your slides, just enough to support whatever point you’re discussing at the time. And make sure that the text is large and easy to read. And when it comes to TrialPad, don’t try to use every tool at your disposal—keep it simple with a single callout or two and a basic highlight. When preparing for trial, it’s also a good practice as you go through the day to use the screenshot button in TrialPad (bottom center of the screen) to capture your annotations for each document. That way, at the end of the day, you can go through and see what you covered and maybe what you need to revisit.

We will continue to enjoy improvements in the area of electronic evidence presentation. For example, there are hardly any good timeline creators on the market today, but there are people working to remedy that. The Nextpoint platform now offers a basic timeline tool. Other tools, including the TranscriptPad app (from the makers of TrialPad), are using artificial intelligence to synchronize the video and text of a deposition transcript, which is a process that used to take hours. This makes it easy to export deposition video clips to be shown in TrialPad or other tools. It’s an exciting time in the trial presentation technology industry, and hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of what is now possible.