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Mobile Devices in Court: Benefits and Pitfalls

Posted Mar 4, 2013 5:54 PM CDT
By Timothy W. Johnson

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Tablets and other mobile devices are beneficial in a court setting, not only for your preparedness and your argument but also for your back. These devices allow for quick access to legal research, notes, and exhibits, with the added ability to perform on-the-spot searches. They also allow you to quell anxiety over forgetting something, because you can bring your entire case file with you electronically. Finally, you do not need a courier to deliver the binders when traveling or a hand truck to get in and out of court. However, transitioning from paper to a tablet takes planning and practice and is never a substitute for preparation.

My first tablet computer was the Motion Computing M1400, which ran a pen-enabled version of Microsoft® Windows XP. I bought a leather portfolio that allowed me to discreetly carry it and use it at the court’s podium. My primary use was for oral arguments. I later began using the iPad®. With Windows-based tablets, the applications that I found indispensable were Microsoft Office OneNote and Adobe® Acrobat. On the iPad, the WestlawNext® application was a game changer along with presentation software such as TrialPad from Lit Software. I have used these tablets and applications in motion practice and appellate oral arguments.

WestlawNext was very helpful both at the beginning of my preparation and for the time leading up to and during my argument. WestlawNext allowed me to organize my research by creating folders that matched the issues of my case and placing the relevant cases in the corresponding folder. Using the WestlawNext interface, I highlighted the important facts and holdings in each case and added my notes. I focused my notes on statements that I might make in court about the case. I also made a folder for the cases cited by opposing counsel and reviewed those cases in the same manner. In preparing materials for oral arguments, I was able to quickly print out a list of the contents of each folder thereby giving me a list of cases relevant to the issues. I was also able to quickly download the cases in PDF format with my annotations.

I used Microsoft OneNote to outline my arguments and associate any exhibits or evidence that I might refer to during arguments. After converting my outline to PDF, I used Adobe Acrobat to create internal and external links from references in my outline to PDFs of cases and exhibits. I also used Acrobat to convert scanned images into text, which could be searched and highlighted, and then made notes on the exhibits. Because this will be used in a time-critical environment, linking is important to more efficiently find the relevant portions of the documents from the outline or other documents. There is not enough time to review documents on the spot while a judge is waiting. Also last-minute changes to the outline and notes can be quickly adapted without the need for an offsite printing facility.

This process has worked well for me in preparing for court and replacing the volume of three -ring binders. Be aware, however, of the perception from the bench as you transition away from paper and binders, because you may lose some non verbal communications channels. In the past, the court may have been alerted that you were trying to answer the question of how the Smith Doctrine applied to your case by flipping frantically through your binders, whereas now your “frantic finger flipping” on your tablet may go unnoticed by the court because the judge may not realize that you are looking through your notes and documents for the answer. The judge may see you as simply stumped and staring down at the podium in defeat. However, within seconds, you can find the relevant information and quickly respond to the judge. Using mobile technology in the courtroom helps you to be competitive by providing faster access to information and enabling you to be more adaptive to shifting your approach or focus at key moments in the case.

BIO: Timothy W. Johnson is General Counsel for Peak Completion Technologies, Inc. and a former litigating attorney with the law firm of Matthews Lawson, PLLC in Houston, Texas. He has represented individual and corporate clients in federal and state courts, with an emphasis on intellectual property matters. Timothy can be reached at tim.johnson@peakcompletions.com.

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