Friday, November 4, 2011

iPad goes to court

I have been using my iPad in court since I got it in April 2010. It very quickly became an essential tool for both criminal trials and appeals. My large litigation briefcase mostly sits in my office while I head off to court with a slim laptop case containing my iPad, the few statements I had to print off for cross-examination, and perhaps a book of authorities for the judge (ideally, after emailing my cases to the prosecutor).

Here are the essential apps I use on the iPad to go to court.

GoodReader for Large PDFs
For dealing with large PDFs, there's nothing better than GoodReader. It can handle the 3000-page PDFs the police produce these days. It also has a file system that you will likely find familiar. Sadly it does not handle a portfolio from Acrobat. You have to load individual PDFs onto your iPad. I don’t believe there is any portfolio capability for any PDF app on iPad. For that reason, and because of speed issues, I am coming to the view that you might want to put larger PDF disclosure onto a laptop and save the iPad for your authorities. For your average less-than-mega criminal trial, though, the iPad can easily handle both disclosure and authorities.

Case library and PDFs
iAnnotate was the first fully-featured PDF mark-up app that I used on my iPad, and because of that I continue to use it mostly because of familiarity. You might find you get enough from GoodReader, but I continue to use iAnnotate for marking up cases. I get all my case law as PDFs.
Where the iPad excels is in letting me pack around a virtual ton of cases instead of an actual ton of case books. I highlight and annotate the case once, and whenever I find a new use for a case, I add a new tag to it in iAnnotate. I can search for everything on, say, "voice ID" and get my favourite cases.

I don't have 3G on my iPad but I have seen other counsel use their 3G in court and it doesn't seem to interfere with recording equipment the way phones do. Since I had an iPhone, when I got the iPad, the 3G seemed like a luxury extra. Now it seems to me to be worth the price. With 3G you would have full access to your DropBox (and your full case library) right in court.

Adobe Reader
Adobe just released Adobe Reader for iPad and iPhone on 17 October 2011, and it’s free. Too early for me to have a comment, other than to say it has navigation, but no annotation features.

Creating documents
You will want QuickOffice Pro, which also works with DropBox. That gives you a suite of functions that are like MS Office: word processing, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint-type slides. All QuickOffice documents are compatible with the MS products on your desktop. I move documents back and forth between my desktop, laptop, and iPad (iPhone too, in a pinch).

I suggest you stay away from Pages, the Apple word processor. It's pretty, but of little use for business correspondence in iPad. Maybe it will have more features as more and more people use the iPad for business.

You will find that for typing in larger volume, the iPad is annoying. I have a Bluetooth keyboard. I use sometimes and it definitely improves the experience. But by the time I'm packing around a keyboard with the iPad, I might as well have a small laptop. Even with a full-sized keyboard, the word processors on iPad just haven't got more than the most basic functions. Still, when you need to send a letter or draft a short document and you are away from the office, the iPad is there for you.

Tracking time and billing
I use TimeWerks to track billable time. I use it on my phone, but it can also be used on iPad. It appears to have been designed for building contractors, but I like it for its economy of effort. I can set different billable rates for different projects, and it grinds out an invoice that needs only a little tweaking to cut and paste into my own format. I am working on getting it to automatically populate my own preferred form for invoices, but I’m not there yet.

VPN to your other computers (Where’s my flying car?)
I can log into and operate my desktop computer from a remote location. I have VNC running on my computer, and the viewer on my iPad and iPhone. That has saved me a few times. My faxes go to my computer, so I can check them when I'm away. It also gives me remote access to the greater computing power of the desktop, for applications like Acrobat Pro. I once shared access to a webinar with office staff while I was in court out of town using VPN, so we could both participate from the same virtual desktop.

Calendars, email, document sharing and all that jazz
Lastly, I love Google. I have my own domain name and I have it directed to gmail, so I have access to a fully synched archive of email on any device and also on the web. It is reasonably secure. I also use it for my calendar, my to-do tasks and BFs. You can share that with anyone you choose. You might share a "family" calendar with your family, and your work calendar with an assistant. I also have a message board where my assistant and I can post all my phone messages. If I want it'll send me an email every time a new message is added. All Google apps are accessible from any web-enabled device.

Storage and back-up
You really want some kind of reasonably secure and reasonably convenient cloud storage to store and back up your data. It's effortless. GoodReader and iAnnotate both work well with DropBox. Dropbox is reasonably secure (more secure than the filing cabinet in your office, or all the paper files you left sitting on your desk when you went home last night) and you have access to all your documents all the time. It synchs to multiple devices, so even when you don't have access to the cloud, if you choose, you can have a copy of everything in your DropBox also on your device. Of course, if you are concerned that you might misplace your device you don't want to store anything on it. That means you have to have access to the internet to use your files. The trade-off is always convenience against security. Remember, many mobile devices can be remotely wiped if you do lose them, and the iPad is one of them, if you have the 3G model. If you have the need to use that feature just once, you will be glad you spent the extra money for 3G.

There are other more expensive services for cloud storage, and some of them are local and claim to have cloud servers completely in Canada. Some lawyers have expressed concern about cloud storage that use servers in the USA because of the Patriot Act. You have to ask yourself whether that is a concern for your particular type of practice. While you're at it, you might also want to ask yourself whether you believe that any Canadian cloud is impervious to determined American authorities anyway. Exercise your own due diligence, please.

Case closed
That's pretty well the core of my business apps. iPad is proving to be a pretty good all-rounder for my criminal practice. It doesn’t have the flaming keyboard power of a laptop, but it is so much more portable. For readability and reduced eye strain, I'd be happier to deal with my cases on an e-reader with e-ink technology (like Sony uses) but so far there is nothing with e-ink display that is fast enough or with a large enough display. I hope it will come along one day.

I still have a laptop to use when I don't want to compromise, but when I'm headed to the airport to do a case out of town I'm pretty happy to have the iPad -- and a little resentful that I still have to pack along casebooks for the court and crown. If I were more organized, I'd send them up by courier in advance, then step off the plane with my iPad under my arm and a self-satisfied smirk on my face.