07 Feb TrialPad for iPad: Courtroom Presentation Tool for Lawyers
I was happy to see an update for the new app TrialPad (iTunes link) on my iPad the other day. This new app from Lit Software LLC (website) promises an easy way for trial lawyers to collect, organize and present PDF based exhibits and demonstrative evidence in the courtroom.
At it’s core, TrialPad is a PDF organizer with annotation and VGA out capabilities. When I first looked at this app, I thought it was duplicating features in other apps. On further inspection, I think the developers have put a lot of time into thinking about small details that would be important to an attorney presenting at trial.
On entering the app, the user is prompted to set up case files into which PDF files can be imported. TrialPad added Dropbox support in its most recent update, which is a welcome addition to being able to import files from Mail. Imports from Dropbox retain whatever folder structure they had ensuring that organization is preserved. Once PDFs have been added to a case folder, they can be organized into subfolders or reordered. The ability to reorder files in any way you want is nice most apps simply organize by name or date. I’d like to see a little better file management in the app in the way of being able to synchronize a case with a particular Dropbox folder or perhaps with a desktop app. Currently, once a set of files is added to a case and organized, there does not appear to be a way to incorporate changed or new PDF files other than by adding one file at a time manually or by starting from scratch.
The app is organized like many document based apps: list of files at the left (in landscape mode), a viewer on the right with annotation tools at the top and VGA presentation tools at the bottom. The annotation tools are minimal, but seem appropriate for what a person would want when presenting at trial: a highlighter, a redaction tool and a freehand pen. The highlighter is nice in that it highlights a block rather than line by line. This is nice when you want to highlight an entire paragraph, but I’d also like to see line by line highlighting. One aspect I found frustrating is how the annotation tools turn off after one stroke. This makes sense with the redaction and highlighter, but it didn’t make sense to me with the freehand pen. Numerous times in testing the app when I wanted to write a word, I would have to switch the pen annotation tool on for every stroke. The ostensible reason for this choices is to prevent inadvertent marks on an exhibit when a user wants to pinch and zoom. This seems like it could be overcome by simply not making marks if two fingers touched the screen rather than having the frustrating.
The presentation tools have some nice features tailored for the courtroom including the ability present one exhibit on screen while you find, queue up and annotate another exhibit on the iPad. This took some getting used to for me, as typically VGA out in apps is either off or on. But once I started thinking about how I would want to present in a hearing, this was a welcome feature.
One of the key features of the app is the ability to save multiple annotated versions of the same document (a “Hot Doc”) and access those views different questions or witnesses. I can see a plaintiff’s lawyer in an auto accident case asking a the driver, passenger, witness, and cop to each annotate a map of the intersection where the accident occurred – saving each as a separate annotated file for presentation in closing. One problem I encountered was that all Hot Docs made of the same file have the same name. While a file can be renamed, this seems like an extra step that might get missed in the heat of trial. I might like to see each Hot Doc of the same file separately and automatically labeled with letters or numbers as they are created (e.g., Map – A, Map – B) or labeled with a time stamp. This would make referring to them later more useful.
I’m not a trial lawyer, but I can see this app as a useful tool. It seems like it would be best for small to medium trials. Even more common will be the short trial or hearing where you have just a few exhibits to present. It simply takes no time to add those documents to TrialPad and be ready to go. Use in more complex trials with dozens of exhibits seems possible, but I think some other navigational aids like thumbnails, tagging, quick naming and the like may be necessary – especially once multiple Hot Docs start to be added. Also, as the cases get larger, the power of the more fully featured trial management programs are probably more appropriate.
I have had a couple email exchanges with the developer and I know they are listening to customers, which is always good. One thing we exchanged emails about was the price of the app. The app retails for $89.99 which is high for many apps. But, in terms of typical legal software, it is nothing. The app is about the same cost as preparing a large foam core board with an exhibit. I also think there is a difference in pricing apps for personal use and professional use and in the latter case, TrialPad is not inappropriately priced. Perhaps the TrialPad folks should consider launching a free version of the app with limited functionality (e.g., 3 documents max, 3 minutes continuous VGA out max) so people can try before they buy (or ask a firm to buy). There are a number of videos on TrialPad’s website introducing the app and highlighting some of its features (an example below).
I’m particularly glad to see app development specifically for lawyers. I think the fact that there are some PDF and VGA Out apps that can do some of the things that TrialPad does will ensure that the folks at TrialPad keep developing. From my e-mail exchanges with the developer, I can tell you that they are all ears for input and suggestions. So, if there is something you want to see, drop them a line!