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August 01, 2012

iWitness: The iPad for Litigators: Storming the Courtrooms

Litigators are eagerly embracing the iPad. Here are the tablets pluses and minuses, along with a review of some of the better apps.

Sharon D. Nelson and John W. Simek

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Only rarely do you see a new technology storm the courtroom, but the eagerness with which litigators are embracing the iPad is extraordinary. As we write this, we have just returned from giving a continuing legal education (CLE) program at which a litigator proudly held up his new iPad and pronounced: “This is a game changer.” If you are not yet a believer, consider this: When we helped organize a webinar sponsored by the America Law Institute and the American Bar Association and called (cleverly) “The iPad for Litigators,” so many lawyers registered (nearly 1,000) that we had to break it into three sessions so as not to overload the technology. The CLE made so much money that its sponsor, the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section, quadrupled its anticipated yearly income. When we taught a similar CLE in Fairfax Circuit Court, we maxed out the space in our largest courtroom. We now have four more such CLEs scheduled.

The iPad’s popularity results from its sleek design and impressive functionality. Before trial, you can use it to initiate and complete research, organize exhibits, compose deposition questions, manage deposition transcripts, prepare jury voir dire questions, and so much more. In court, you can communicate with other colleagues without having to say a word, record juror reactions, or do research on the fly, assuming the court will allow you to connect to the Internet during trial. The iPad is so slender that you can also, while walking about the courtroom and talking to the jury, link with courtroom presentation technology to show exhibits, do call-outs, and make annotations. The jury is able to focus on your message rather than being overwhelmed by bulky, cumbersome technology. And you are able to let your inner Abraham Lincoln shine as you perform your magic as a litigator.

By now you may be thinking, “If I have the iPad 2 , do I need to upgrade to the new iPad to take advantage of these functions?” Nope. However, if you have the original iPad, you need to upgrade to allow applications, or apps, to clone the screen so that you can shoot it to other devices for display. If you are purchasing an iPad for the first time or upgrading, make sure you get enough storage space on the device—you may be showing videos or deposition testimony in court and will quickly max out the 16-gigabyte version. We recommend getting the 64-gigabyte model.

So what about accessories? First, you certainly need a cover, and there are scads of them—check out the reviews at If you get a cover that can function as a stand, you won’t later need to purchase a separate stand. Second, if you’re planning to use the iPad  to make handwritten notes, you’ll need a stylus of some sort. Blogger Jeff Richardson is fond of the Virtuoso ($19.95) or BoxWave Styra (now $22.95 at Adonit Jot Pro ($29.99) is the favorite of Tom Mighell, author of two best-selling and must-read books, The iPad in One Hour for Lawyers and iPad Apps in One Hour for Lawyers. If, on the other hand, you’re a fast typist, as author Nelson is, you might prefer the standard issue Apple wireless keyboard that uses Bluetooth technology. The keyboard and iPad, with cover, fit without problem in her purse so she doesn’t need to lug around a laptop, although in truth she prefers the laptop for really serious work. Finally, you need to get Apple’s video graphics array (VGA) adapter ($29.95) to connect your iPad to a projector in the courtroom, and possibly a high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) adapter ($29.95) to connect your iPad to a high-definition television.

The Downsides            

Now for some of the not-so-great iPad attributes. No one likes to hear about security issues, but there are some with which you need to be familiar. Here are our basic concerns and some of the remedial steps you can take: First, make sure that you enable a lock code. Avoid the temptation to use a four-digit personal identification number (PIN); instead, configure a passphrase for locking the iPad. Configuring a lock code automatically enables encryption on the iPad. It’s fairly weak encryption, but it is better than none at all. Next, configure the iPad to automatically wipe itself if there are 10 incorrect attempts to enter the unlock code. Even if you are slightly sauced, you ought to be able to get it right in 10 tries. Or stop at eight and try again in the morning! You will also want to configure the “Find My iPad” feature so that you can locate it if it is ever lost. This also enables you to wipe the contents of the iPad remotely.

Next, we have long been critical of the iPad as a productivity device. Although it is a wonderful tool for consuming content, producing content has been more problematic. It is slowly getting better, but so many solutions are kludge fixes. For example, printing can be a headache. You can print directly from an iPad using a feature called AirPrint, but it only works with some newer printers. Many lawyers resist the expense and trouble of getting rid of  a current printer in favor of a new AirPrint-compatible printer. Most users will print indirectly using a computer with AirPrint software support, which routes the print request from the iPad to the computer, and then to a printer via an attached USB printer. The computer has to be on to enable printing, but this seems to be the preferred option.

Another missing feature is that there’s no native folder structure as you are used to seeing on a Mac or Windows computer, so folder structures exist only within apps. There’s no easy way to get files on and off an iPad, so folks use email to transfer documents or sync their iPad to cloud-based accounts like Dropbox. It can all be done, but it isn’t elegant.

Apps for Lawyers

Despite some room for improvement, the iPad currently reigns as the premier litigation tool. So what are the lawyer’s need-to-have productivity apps? Penultimate is a favorite for taking handwritten notes with a stylus. Or, if you prefer using a wireless keyboard like author Nelson, go with Evernote. But, if you are working on Microsoft Office files, Documents To Go is our favorite choice. This is the only app that allows you to see the Track Changes and Comments features of Word, and you can also work on Excel or PowerPoint files. All three apps sync easily with Dropbox. GoodReader, which makes reading and annotating documents a breeze and supports a wide range of file types, is another useful app for the busy litigator because it allows organizing files into folders within its own structure.

We, of course, like the iPad most of all in the courtroom, where lawyers are taking to it en masse. There is no way in a column to list all the possible apps—your best source is Mighell’s book of apps mentioned above—but, here is a concise list of the apps our litigating colleagues seem to favor.

Court Days Pro ($2.99). This app allows you to set up a case calendar with deadlines.

Idocument REVIEW (Free). This allows you to review the documents in your case and mark them as relevant, privileged, or a Hot Document. The volume of documents that you can work with is limited, however, and you have to first send the data to the vendor to convert it to a proprietary file type. We’re not crazy about the idea of sending your potential evidence to someone else, but it is what it is.

The Deponent ($9.99). This app was designed by our friend and e-discovery expert (and attorney) Josh Gilliland. It allows you to prepare deposition questions in various practice areas. Some questions are suggested, but you can customize the questions to your liking.

TranscriptPad ($49.99). With this app, you can work with all of your deposition transcripts, search through the whole case, color-code certain case issues, and send out summary reports. Currently, the app reads only text files of the transcripts.

iJuror ($9.99). This is a juror selection app, which many colleagues regard favorably. It allows you to enter information about each potential juror and then to seat them in a virtual  juror box once the selection and strike process is over.

TrialPad ($89.99). This is the big kahuna, hence the heftier price, but this is the app that our litigating friends seem most excited about. You can load documents, photos, and videos from your Dropbox account into this app for use at hearings and at trial. It is a lot cheaper than Trial Director and its comrades, but it does many of the same things from the very slender and unobtrusive iPad. Once a document or an image is displayed, you can annotate it, perform call-outs, or redact portions of the file. This is one app that is regarded as a must-have for litigators.

ExhibitView ($69.99). This is  a relative newcomer but worth mentioning. It does basically what TrialPad does, but it also has a desktop companion tool, so it has the advantage of allowing you to transfer your case file between your office computer and the iPad. It also has something called Witness Mode, which lets you give your iPad to a witness so that he or she can view and annotate an exhibit but without seeing any other documents in the case file. We haven’t heard too much about this one from our litigating friends yet—TrialPad made it to the beachhead first.

BT Chat HD (Free). You’ll love the price, we know, and this is a nifty little app. If you’re working in court with a team, it is not always desirable to whisper to one another or pass notes. With this app and a Bluetooth connection, team members can privately chat electronically.

Are there other possible apps? Yes, tons of them. This is part of the danger. You don’t want to download all sorts of unvetted apps without really knowing their security features and their capabilities. So what’s a busy lawyer to do? For the moment, watch Tom Mighell—he’ll be updating his written materials as he continues to do webcasts, which are greatly in demand. Also, get references from colleagues. Finally, we really like the Apple app AppAdvice ($1.99). For that paltry price, you get a pretty good review and a sense of whether the app you’re considering is worth buying.

So let that inner Abe Lincoln loose in the courtroom with the elegant and inconspicuous iPad. Your advocacy will soar without being overshadowed by technology, while the technology complements your case. If you are not yet tech-savvy, let a colleague run the equipment. But, after some practice and preparation with the tools, many lawyers are comfortable enough to manage on their own. As Lincoln himself was wont to say, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”


Sharon D. Nelson and John W. Simek

Sharon D. Nelson is an attorney and the president of Sensei Enterprises, Inc., Fairfax, Virginia. John W. Simek is the firm’s vice president.