December 2010

New Apps for Lawyers: PDF Annotation App Shootout (Part 4 of a Series)

So here we are in episode 4 of 7 planned posts about basic apps a lawyer needs to outfit an iPad into a functional working rig. Nothing fancy in the app categories – just the basics. And when I think about my basic workflows, not a day goes by where I don’t spend at least some time with PDF files. I suspect I’m not alone as some of the most popular posts here at TabletLegal are those discussing PDF Annotation apps. So I decided to do this one a little differently.

There are really four contenders in this area (if there are others that I’ve missed, please let me know). In alphabetical order:

  • Aji’s iAnnotate
  • Goodiware’s Goodreader
  • omz software’s PDF Highlighter
  • Readdle’s PDF Expert

I’ve probably been a little partial to Goodreader in my coverage at TabletLegal simply because it fits my workflow really well. But, my workflow isn’t the same as your workflow. I needed to expand my horizons so I spent a few days putting all four of these apps through their paces.

Unsatisfied with a simple textual summary of my work I decided to really break it down. How better than a 4 page spreadsheet (in PDF of course) comparing and contrasting features of these four apps in over 25 categories that I thought would be of primary interest to a lawyer. The spreadsheet is linked at the end of this post for perusal at your leisure.

But I’m not sending you off to figure it all out on your own. I did come to some conclusions, but probably not the ones you are expecting. I’m not saying which app is the “best” or the “worst.” Rather, each app has its own strengths and weaknesses. The good news is that all four all handle the basics great – if you need to highlight while reading and make a couple notes, then any of these will work fine. Beyond that, the app that is best for you depends on your workflow. I break it down like this:

Aji’s iAnnotate. You want iAnnotate if you live in PDFs. The power feature of this app is its ability to have multiple PDF files open in separate tabs that you can quickly flip between. If you are a heavy PDF user, you won’t mind the nonstandard interface of this app because you can customize it to fit your workflow exactly. You’ll also be spending enough time in this app to learn and appreciate every feature described in the 36 page on-board user guide. Powerful file management tools will help you keep boxes worth of documents organized.

iAnnotate – Multiple PDFs in Tabs

Goodiware’s Goodreader. Consider Goodreader if you have basic to moderate annotation needs and PDF is one part of a multi-piece workflow. A fairly standard interface for accessing annotation tools will allow you to get your work done quickly. Lowest price makes it a good place to get started while also handling the necessary file management needs for almost every other file type you might come in contact with.

Goodreader – File Management and PDF Annotation

omz software’s PDF Highlighter. This is the 1.0 app in the group (actually, 1.1 just released), but still a very competent offering. Use PDF Highlighter if your needs are pretty straightforward. I think PDF Highlighter may be ideal for someone referencing PDFs with unfamiliar content because of the integrated Wikipedia lookup. I can imagine sifting through a stack of depositions with medical terms or technical client documents where the ability to tap on a word and get wikipedia feedback could be tremendously useful.

Highlighter – Graphic Annotation Summary

Readdle’s PDF Expert. This app is almost as feature loaded as iAnnotate with a very strong organizational side and a very usable interface. If you need to fill out PDF forms, then you must use PDF Expert as it is the only app supporting forms at this point. PDF Expert’s file management tools will suit the heavy PDF user and its ease of use will appeal to even one-off uses.

PDF Expert – Fillable PDF Forms

You’ll see that the spreadsheet is labeled “Version 1.0.” I suspect I’ve made some mistakes which I’ll correct as I find them or folks bring them to my attention. These apps will also be updated and I’ll try to reflect those updates in the grid. I’ll refine and expand on some categories and possibly drop others as a refine my thoughts about these apps as tools for a lawyer’s workflow. I’ll also be sticking a link to this spreadsheet in the sidebar of TabletLegal so it is easy to access.

So there you have it. Let me know what I’ve missed and what is working best for you.

Here is the PDF Annotation App Shootout Summary Spreadsheet Version 1.0.

Links to App Store:

  • iAnnotate PDF – Aji, LLC
  • GoodReader for iPad – Good.iWare Ltd.
  • PDF Highlighter – omz:software
  • PDF Expert – Readdle
  • Jury Tracker for iPad

    Jury Tracker

    Over the weekend I was introduced to an intriguing new app for trial lawyers: John Cleave’s Jury Tracker (iTunes link). As the name implies, Jury Tracker facilitates the collection jury information and observations about jurors during trial. Detailed data collection is supplemented by comprehensive reporting. Unlike the voir dire tool iJuror (iTunes link), Jury Tracker is designed to record jury observations during trial. I spent some time with the app this weekend and for a 1.0 release, it shows real promise.

    On opening Jury Tracker, the user either chooses an existing case or enters data for a new case. The case data entry screen collects the expected case related details (parties, case number, court, judge, number of jurors, etc.) and has a notes field for other information. Data for each juror is then entered into a wide variety of fields including demographic information, employment data, family and marital status, military service, prior jury experience, hobbies and the like. Simple avatars can be selected for each juror to aid in identification and matched up with the jury layout in your particular court room.

    Jury Setup

    Once the trial begins, the data capture features of Jury Tracker come into play. Tapping a juror’s avatar takes you to the Juror Observation screen. From here, juror reactions from the simple to the complex can be recorded. I like how the app separates facial reactions (nodding, shaking head, crying, smiling, etc.) from body reactions (looking at watch, taking notes, day dreaming, etc.). Facial reactions can be refined further through simple popups (reaction “to the witness” or “with the witness”). A number of multiple choice buttons and sliders allow for more categorization. Jurors can be assigned a flag (green, red, blue), designated as a “leader” or “follower”, labeled with a plaintiff or defendant prediction or labeled as a “key” juror. A freeform note field collects other observations by the trial team.

    Jury Observations

    All or some of the above data can be recorded for each juror at multiple times during the trial. Once collected, the data can be compiled into reports for analysis. Sort all the data by juror to observe reactions over the course of the day. Sort by plaintiff or defendant to see who is leaning what way. Separate the leaders from the followers, or those with positive body language from those with negative. These reports can be saved to the case file for later review or e-mailed to other members of the trial team for analysis.

    I like the interface of the app. It is clean and well organized, allowing for rapid data capture. The app could use some tune up in terms of responsiveness. Sometimes the app was slow to respond to my taps resulting in me tapping again (needlessly). Some of the animations also seem a bit slow to me (switching from one view to another). These types of things are typical for a 1.0 app, so hopefully we’ll see some updates in this department.

    A feature for consideration in a future update is the ability to define custom fields and buttons for juror data or juror observations. I can see where a lawyer might like the ability to track a particular attribute or observation and a custom tick box or flag would help record that data quickly. This might also be accomplished through some sort of tagging feature.

    My one main criticism is the use of a “save” button in certain screens rather than persistently saving data behind the scenes. This is a different approach than many apps and, for me at least, counterintuitive. More than once I jumped back from the Juror Observation screen to the Jury Tracker screen without tapping Save causing me to lose my observations. Perhaps there is a technical reason why this method of preserving data was used as opposed to the persistent background save used in many apps.

    I don’t try cases myself, but it seems that effective use of the app would require a second set of hands. Along the same lines, one of the understandable problems is that a user can really only enter data for one juror at a time. At different times during a trial, there may be reactions you want to collect or observations to record for multiple jurors at the same time. For large trials, I can imagine multiple paralegals or jury observers, each with iPads, assigned to tracking chunks of the jury. I can see a tool like this being very useful in bigger trials. In addition to helping the lawyer adjust his or her presentation, I can see this type of reporting being very interesting to the client in evaluating settlement offers and trial progress.

    All in all, a very solid 1.0 app. Looking forward to how this app develops. Great to see more apps customized for specific legal needs.

    You can pick up Jury Tracker for $9.99 in the App Store.

    Hey Lawyer! New iPad? Get These Apps First (Part 3)

    This is the third in our seven part series about the apps you need to get your iPad set up as a functional working machine. We aren’t tackling special purpose needs – just the basics here. Last time we looked at basic writing apps. This time we tackle a bit of the mundane – calculators.

    Calculator. Oddly, the iPad doesn’t come with a calculator app. No worries though as there are plenty of great ones in the App Store. The three calculators mentioned below should take care of most number crunching needs of lawyers. Each is slightly different, so consider the one that would be best based on your practice and needs.

    powerOne – templates

    My home page features Infinity Softwork’s powerOne Financial Calculator (iTunes link). Calling this app a “calculator” is a bit of an understatement. Sure, you can do all the regular calculator stuff with powerOne but the real magic is with its built in templates. The templates are sort of like mini spreadsheets: you fill in some basic data and the powerOne does the rest. Loan amortization, time value of money, cash flows, cap rates, lease analysis, depreciation, ratios, taxes, whatever. Even the most numerically inept lawyer can punch figures into the templates and get great results. As a business lawyer, I find a number of these templates very useful. Power users can even create their own templates. I designed a custom template to help with calculate the Delaware franchise tax for certain of my corporate clients. At $4.99, there are certainly cheaper calculators, but the included templates make powerOne worth the extra dough. If you want to try before you buy, check out the free version.

    Digits Calculator

    If you are more of a “ten key” type than a spreadsheet user, give Shift Apps Digits Calculator for iPad (iTunes link). Digits sort of resembles a modern 10-key calculator with a paper tape. On first glance, this might look like a basic calculator with tape, further inspection reveals a ton of useful tools under the hood. Probably the most useful feature is the ability to edit your tape: find a miskey in the tape and simply tap to edit and the totals update automatically. Having been a CPA prior to going to law school, this function alone would have saved me miles of tape from one miskey in a long string of numbers. I also love the ability to annotate tape entries with comments and then email the entire tape plus annotations to be printed or imported into a spreadsheet application. The old adage of “showing your work” has never been easier. If you don’t need the complicated formulas that powerOne provides, you can create an annotated tape in Digits Calculator faster than in Excel. Digits Calculator was just updated to version 2.0 and is $1.99. If you want to try before you buy, Digits also has a free edition (iTunes link).

    10BII HD

    Finally, for those more comfortable with the business calculator you had back in college, take a look at Ernest Brock’s selection of simulated HP and TI business calculators: the 12C Calc Financial (iTunes link) the 10BII HD (iTunes link) and the BA Finance Pro (iTunes link). These calculators offer the key layout and data entry methods you remember from college (though they do so at the expense of always utilizing the iPad’s large screen). They also support a number of “worksheets” similar to the templates in powerOne. While I prefer the interface of powerOne and Digits Calculator, a number of my colleagues who still have an HP calculator on their desk like not having to learn anything new to use these apps. All three of these calculators are $5.99.

    So that’s everything you need to get your calc on. Next time in this series I’ll be talking about PDF annotation apps.

    Hey Lawyer! New iPad? Get These Apps First (Part 2)

    This is the second installment in my multi-part series about basic apps to turn your iPad into a serviceable work machine. We aren’t tackling special needs here, just the basics. Last time we considered file storage and access. This time we’re looking at apps to help with the stock in trade for many lawyers: writing.

    Writing. Lets get one thing out of the way right now: Microsoft Word isn’t a writing tool, it is a formatting tool. When you need to write – and I mean seriously get words out of your head and down on paper (or into electrons) – any “features” not having solely to do with the act of writing are just distractions. The tools in today’s post are just about writing. Everything captured with these apps can be pasted into a Word doc when the time comes for formatting. Until then, use these apps to crank out the words.

    Since you are writing on your iPad, it probably means you are from behind your desktop: coffee shop, park, hotel, conference room, whatever. In all likelihood, what you draft on the iPad isn’t the version being sent to the client or filed in court.

    There are lots of great apps coming out in is area, but four top my recommended list. Right now the app getting the most use on my iPad is PlainText (iTunes link). In fact, I’m drafting is post in PlainText right now. PlainText is a basic text editor that works with Dropbox (I told you to get Dropbox). The interface is clean and straightforward: files on the left third and drafting window on the right two-thirds. The drafting window can be expanded fill the screen eliminating everything but your text. The interface has an appealing ivory color – like high quality linen paper – which is easier on the eyes than a white background. All your files are stored in your Dropbox for later use. Plaintext also works with TextExpander (iTunes link) (which I’ve talked about before). Best of all, PlainText is absolutely free.

    A close second to PlainText is Simplenote (iTunes link). Rather than syncing files with Dropbox, Simplenote syncs with a web service giving you to access your files from from any browser. Simplenote contains a number of other features including the ability to send text directly out of the app in an email, tagging, versioning, and search. Have cases or statutesnyou use frequently? Paste each into a separate text files so you can search across them easily. The really distinguishing feature of Simplenote is the ability to share files with others for simultaneous collaboration via the web. Simple note also works with TextExpander. The Simplenote app and web service are both free.


    Two other Dropbox based sync options worth considering. Many people like Second Gear Software’s Elements (iTunes link). Elements has more features than PlainText (including search) but does not have the collaboration tools like Simplenote. One distinguishing feature of Elements is the ability to preview Markdown text and HTML (which is probably meaningless except for those few lawyers that need to  write for the web). Elements is $4.99.



    A new app in this area for me is Information Architects Writer (iTunes link). Writer is another Dropbox sync text editor with a few unique features. Writer probably does the best job of all the apps I’ve listed here in terms of creating the best environment for writing. What you notice immediately when using the app is a beautiful monospaced font that was custom created and optimized for use on the iPad. While most everything printed in the legal world is in some variant of Times Roman, such fonts do not perform well on screen (after a few hours in front of a screen with a well designed font, you will see what a difference it can make). Writer also offers a focus mode that blurs out all but the last few lines of text so you are not distracted and drawn backwards into your previous work. The final notable feature about Writer is an extra row of buttons added to the iPad’s virtual keyboard. These extra keys facilitate navigation and certain frequently used punctuation marks. Writer is $4.99.

    I currently have all of these apps on my iPad. The app getting the most use for drafting (first versions of correspondence, contracts) is Writer. The interface, font and focus mode are all helpful to my writing process. When I write for this blog, I like the ability to preview my HTML or markdown, so Elements is great for its ability to preview that type of formatting. I’ve used a 37Signals Writeboard for my other collaborative drafting projects, but I plan to try this feature in Simplenote next time I have an opportunity. I use PlainText for note taking in client meetings. In these situations, I’m more in transcription mode than drafting mode, rarely even looking at the screen. So, the minimal feature set of PlainText is appropriate in this case.

    Those are my writing recommendations for a lawyer on the iPad. Next time I’ll be looking at calculators. Fascinating stuff, I know, but Apple didn’t include a calculator with the iPad and there are times where even lawyers need to add things up.