Essential Tablet Apps for Lawyers
There’s a scene in the John Grisham thriller The Runaway Jury where Gene Hackman, as a highly paid — and highly unethical — jury consultant, is monitoring a bank of video screens, relying on hidden cameras and microphones to covertly coach the lawyers who are relying on him through the complex voir dire process in a landmark case. Today, Mr. Hackman needn’t bother, as sophisticated juror selection software is literally in the hands of the real-life attorneys sitting in the courtroom.
Online tools and software geared toward lawyers aren’t new, but we’ve moved beyond the days of dragging the laptop into court for on-the-fly research, showing PowerPoint presentations, and displaying documents, photos and videos using programs such as inData’s Trial Director. In the “Post-PC” era, tablet computing is a game-changer for the 21st-century practice of law.
When the iPad made a splash in 2010, some lawyers, including myself, were intrigued about its possible use in both the office and in the courtroom. To be sure, the iPad is great for reading novels, watching movies on Netflix, listening to iTunes, or playing Angry Birds, but could the iPad make a lawyer’s job easier or create an advantage, especially during hearings and trials?
As it turns out, the iPad is an incredibly useful and powerful tool for legal professionals. According to the ABA’s 2012 Tech Survey, 30 percent of all attorneys now use an iPad for law-related tasks, and I expect that figure to rise, especially with the introduction of the iPad mini. Eventually, the iPad will become as ubiquitous in the courtroom as briefcases and neckties.
In my practice, I use my iPad to take notes (typed and handwritten), to outline motions, to review and annotate depositions and transcripts, to display slide shows, timelines, photos, and videos, to conduct research, and to select juries. For example, I recently used my iPad during oral arguments before the South Carolina Supreme Court. On my iPad, I had more than 1,400 pages of trial transcripts and exhibits, appellant’s and respondent’s briefs, and all my legal authorities. All of this information was searchable, indexed, and collated for my appellate presentation.
With more than 250,000 apps specifically designed for the iPad, and more than 100 more added each day, finding the right apps for the job can be difficult and daunting. For example, if you search the term “law” in the App Store, there are more than 1,350 listings. Search for “lawyers,” and you will see 450 or more listings. And, as gamers, movie buffs and bookworms have learned, not all apps are created equal. The best legal apps offer not just the functionality to find, organize and recall information in the heat of trial, but have built-in analytical tools that help a lawyer gain insight into the process and stay focused on the trial process. For example, during voir dire, an app can take the place of Hackman’s Rankin Fitch character altogether — and many of these apps cost less than what a typical lawyer spends on lunch.
While there are far too many excellent apps to mention them all here, I’ve compiled a short list of those that I’ve found to be worthy tools both in the office and in the courtroom:
With WiFi in many courtrooms, and the ability to connect to high-speed cellular networks, the iPad makes legal research fast and easy on the go. Here are a few of the popular apps for legal research:
Fastcase HD — Fastcase is not as feature-rich as Westlaw Next or Lexis Advance, but it is free and provides accurate search results for cases and statutes, both state and federal. As part of the Tennessee Bar Association Complete Membership, all members receive an upgrade to the expanded Premium-Level Access, which easily synchs between mobile device and computer. Tutorials are available online at www.tba.org/fastcase.
Lexis Advance — Free to download, but requires a subscription to Lexis. If you are more familar with LexisNexis than Westlaw, then this is the app for you.
WestlawNext — This app is free to download, but requires a subscription to Westlaw. The app is easy to use and has all of the features you would expect from Westlaw.
The iPad is an excellent “consumption” device for reading and annotating transcripts. Although you can convert your transcripts to PDFs and use one of the PDF Annotation apps listed further down, here are a couple of apps specifically dedicated to reviewing and to annotating transcripts:
Transcript Pad — $49.99. With this app, you can carry your transcripts in a single app, search across an entire case, a single witness, or one deposition, reference exhibits as you read the transcript, create, color code and assign issue codes, and print or e-mail detailed or summary reports.
Westlaw Case Notebook Portable E-Transcript — This app is free and allows you to read transcripts prepared as e-transcripts (PTX format), search word indexes, highlight, create notes and e-mail transcripts with annotations.
The iPad is also perfect for reading, reviewing, marking up, and signing PDF files. Also, you can review and annotate depositions and transcripts that have been converted to PDFs with these apps:
Adobe Reader — Free. View, annotate (highlight, strikethrough and underline), draw freehand, add comments and organize your PDFs. This app is more stripped down than the others. Also, it does not integrate with any cloud storage such as Dropbox, so you have to e-mail yourself your PDFs to open them, but it’s free and gets the job done.
iAnnotate — $9.99. You can read, annotate, bookmark and share PDF documents and Word/PowerPoint files; open multiple documents in tabs; customize toolbars; and store documents in the cloud.
GoodReader — $4.99. This popular app supports reading, annotating, and sharing PDFs. Also the app supports viewing Word, Excel, PowerPoint and iWork files, photographs and videos.
PDF Expert — $9.99. Read, annotate, highlight, make notes, draw on and share PDFs. You can also view document types such as iWork, MS Office, images and videos.
Handwriting and Note Taking
Writing on the iPad using a stylus takes a little practice because you do not rest your palm on the screen as you would if you were writing on paper. If you’ve ever spent time trying to write legibly on a chalkboard, then you get the idea. However, once you get the hang of it, the iPad is great for taking and organizing handwritten notes.
Nevertheless, for those of you who would rather type, there are apps to suit just about every note-taking need:
Notability — $1.99. Don’t let the cheap price fool you. Out of all the handwriting apps, this one is my favorite. Many purchasers think so too because this app consistently ranks within the App Store’s Top of the Charts. This app integrates handwriting, PDF annotation, typing and audio recording. You can also organize all of your notes and media by category and subject.
Penultimate — 99¢. This app is the most popular app of the group. Like Notability, it is also ranks within the App Store’s Top of the Charts. Although Penultimate is not as feature-rich as Notability, this handwriting app is easy to use, and the handwriting looks spectacular onscreen. Organize your notes by topic, project or category. If all you are looking to do is occasionally jot down notes or ideas, this app is perfect for you.
Notetaker HD — $4.99. Take handwritten notes and write on PDFs. Insert photos, share documents with others, organize pages into documents and folders.
Notes Plus — $7.99. This app supports handwriting, typing, audio recording and PDF annotation. You can export notes as PDFs. Your notes automatically backup to your Dropbox account.
Evernote — Free ($45 annually for premium account). This is not a handwriting notes app, but it is an excellent app for taking typewritten notes. You can type notes, record audio notes, search through notes, organize notes by notebooks and tags, and share and e-mail notes. Best of all, you can sync your notes across every device you have including iPad, iPhone, PC and Mac.
Word Processing, Spreadsheets and Slideshows
Although the iPad’s onscreen keyboard is not exactly conducive to creating elaborate documents and presentations, it works well for smaller projects such as letters, short memos, small presentations and simple spreadsheets. Using a Bluetooth keyboard definitely opens up the possibility for more expansive document creation on your iPad. For example, I wrote this entire article on my iPad using a wireless keyboard.
Pages, Numbers and Keynote — $9.99 each. Apple’s iWork suite of applications. Create, view, edit and share word-processing documents, spreadsheets and slide shows. Overall, these apps do a decent job of converting their MS Office equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Additionally, the latest version of Pages tracks changes in documents, which makes it easy to collaborate with users of Word.
Quickoffice Pro HD — $19.99. If you work exclusively with MS Office, you may want to consider this app that includes word processing, spreadsheets and slide show presentations.
Quickoffice also allows you to track changes and comments on documents.
Documents to Go Premium — $16.99. Create, edit, and view MS Office files and iWork files. Back up to the cloud. Works with a free desktop (PC) application to allow you to sync your files wirelessly to your laptop or desktop.
What about Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint? Although there have been many rumors that Microsoft was bringing its venerable office suite to the iPad in the near future, as of the date this article, Microsoft has not officially announced its plans to offer Office on the iPad.
JuryPad — $19.99. JuryPad, available at http://benchandbarllc.com, lets you create a searchable database of information about prospective jurors, track peremptory challenges, take notes on jurors, view jury pool demographics, map jurors’ addresses and take a virtual tour of their neighborhoods. You can evaluate, rate and select primary and alternate jurors from a jury list or a custom seating chart, share jury information with others, and predict juror’s decisions at trial.
TrialPad — $89.99. After importing PDFs, images, text files and audio and video files into this app, you can present them electronically in the courtroom. Make callouts from documents, highlight, annotate, redact, add exhibit stickers, create reports of your evidence with exhibit numbers, and share your database with other TrialPad users.
Exhibit A — $9.99. Import images, PDFs and movies, organize them into projects, and display them electronically. Highlight and draw on exhibits, create callouts, and control external displays using the “Show/Hide” button.
TrialDirector — Free. TrialDirector works with or without the desktop version of Trial Director 6 (which allows you to create advanced annotations on your PC before you transfer your work to your iPad). Display videos, photographs, PDFs and other exhibits. Import all of your exhibits from DropBox. Easily make callouts, and highlight, redact and draw on exhibits.
Timeline 3D — $14.99. This app is strictly for creating and presenting timelines. It’s easy to use, and it creates very elegant and visually striking timelines for electronic display. If you like to present timelines for your cases, this is the app for you.
Outliner — $4.99. Create outlines with notes, structured lists, or detailed projects. Sync outlines with Dropbox.
Cloud Outliner – $4.99. Very similar to Outliner, but also syncs with Evernote.
There are literally several hundred legal reference apps available including state and federal codes and other specialized materials:
Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant — $4.99. I consider this to be the “Swiss Army Knife” of legal reference apps. This app includes a legal dictionary, the statute of limitations for each U.S. state, various financial calculators including a fees calculator, a settlement calculator, and a calculator to compute the historical value of money, a blood alcohol calculator, and many more. The app displays crime rates including state and national comparisons, investigative information including weather, company information, computations for cost of living, life expectancy, present or future values, mortgage calculators, and much, much more.
Lawstack — Free. Lawstack gives you access to the U.S. Constitution, Federal Rules of Civil, Criminal, Appellate and Bankruptcy Procedure, Federal Rules of Evidence, CFR, and several state codes.
ABA Journal — Free. You can read breaking legal news and monthly magazine articles.
A Note about Cloud Storage
If you plan to back up, share and import data, then you need access to cloud storage. Here are the three most popular options:
Dropbox — Free for first 2 GB’s. This service is the most popular of the bunch, and many of the apps listed here take advantage of linking to your Dropbox account. If you need more storage space, there are paid subscription plans.
Google Drive — Free for the first 5 GB’s. Google Drive also gives you easy access to Google Docs — web-based authoring of word processing documents, spreadsheets and presentation slides.
Box for iPad — Free for first 5 GB’s. Not as popular as Dropbox, but Box offers more storage space for free. If you need more space, subscription plans are available.
For all the bells and whistles today’s apps can offer, mobile technology is only worthwhile if it earns its way into the lawyer’s briefcase. To do that, these apps have to make our job easier and improve our performance. Most lawyers like technology, so it’s easy to produce an app that lawyers will want to play around with for a little while. But in order to stick around, to become an essential tool, it truly needs to help us succeed for our clients.
STEPHAN FUTERAL is the founder of the law firm of Futeral & Nelson LLC in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, a member of Bench & Bar LLC, and the chief architect of JuryPad. He received his law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law.