“Decades” ago I wrote this post on using an Android tablet in court. Back when I first published that post, Android tablets were poor to say the least. Even on the best day, my gTablet lacked even the most delicate of features seen in today’s Android tablets and smartphones. Now, with advances in processors and touchscreens, Android devices can do much more than first thought. However, the principles and methodologies for using an Android tablet in court remain the same.
The first fundamental issue is determining what information you need and how you’ll use it. Usually for trial that means having the most information accessible at any given instant; for hearings, you might only need one or two documents or small exhibits.
Getting yourself set up
Become used to using digital files if you have any hope of successfully using your Android tablet in court proceedings. This means that you’ll work excruciatingly hard to create a “paper-less” office. (Check out this post for some technical assistance on going paperless, and this post on naming client files.)
In my office we use a practice management system to store files and coordinate client information. We scan and save any document that arrives in our office in PDF format. We also use Acrobat (or our scanner) to make sure each document is OCR-friendly. This means in the future we can edit and markup any document, including adding highlights, comments, and other notes.
We then move all documents into their appropriate folder. For instance, pleadings get placed into a “pleadings” folder, and so forth. Now, we can create copies of any documents (unless we’re okay with using an original) in a “working files folder.” Any documents in the working folder become “fair game,” plus we don’t run the risk of damaging an original. More importantly, we can easily find the working files folder to prepare for an upcoming hearing or trial.
To get started with Android documents you’ll need to understand some basics about the Android file system, and determine whether you want to store files locally or in the cloud.
Android supports a local file structure similar to your desktop computer. Thus, you can transfer all of your client folders to your Android device. For newer devices, transferring files is a simple process: connect your tablet to your computer via the USB cable, then move files back and forth between desktop and tablet; disconnect your device when finished. Transfer times will vary depending on the size of each file or folder. Also note that local files deplete the amount of your device storage, so your twenty gigabytes of free space might quickly become one.
For a bit of convenience, I like to save my folders in a “top level” spot on my SDcard (probably seen on your devices as Storage > sdcard0). Usually I’ll just name the folder “Clients,” or something easy to remember. I’ll give each client his or her own subfolder, which makes locating the information later much easier.
In the cloud
The second method for handling files, if you prefer to save space on your device, is to move “to the cloud.” In reality, the cloud isn’t anything more than hard drive space you’ve rented on someone else’s server. Large companies have used similar setups for years to coordinate data among employees and branches. Cloud storage providers lease gigabytes and terabytes of data to hungry consumers.
Dropbox and Bitcasa are my two favorite cloud storage providers. Each company provides free and paid storage plans with corresponding amounts of space. The key is to experiment with various features and device integration, then pick a service you like.
Putting storage to work
Once you’ve decided on your method for storing files on your Android device it’s time to put everything together. At the office I annotate and highlight the PDF using Adobe Acrobat. When I’m ready, I’ll save the file and copy the folder to the cloud. I prefer to use cloud storage to sync documents between my desktop and Android tablet. Incidentally, if I know I’m going to work from home, I’ll just copy the files from my office to the cloud and work from the cloud folder on my desktop or tablet. Some people might worry about conflicting files, but I’ve never had that problem. If so, then I’d share my cloud folder with any coworkers so we can work from the same folder, that way they can see my comments and annotations, and I’ll see theirs. Note too, at this point I’m usually working with one or two files, and not the entire client folder.
Now, on my tablet I can mark up the documents, adding annotations and other comments. I volley between RepliGo Reader and ezPDF Reader as my choice for PDF annotating on an Android tablet. Right now, I use ezPDF Reader because of its ability to flatten annotations. Either app works well for the basic task of annotating, and more importantly, both apps will save and sync your file back to the cloud or local storage.
Before a deposition, hearing, or trial, I’ll move the entire client folder to my device. I usually move the files the night before, but I may transfer the information months earlier depending on the necessity. For hearings, which are usually single-subject conflicts, I try to keep the larger folder separated from my smaller one because it’s easier to locate my annotated documents when they’re away from the larger, chaotic mess. It’s personal preference more than anything.
I’ll also print off any exhibits I’m presenting. I already have my marked up documents, so I don’t worry about those, except to make sure they’re in the order I want to present. Although a severely marked up exhibit is intimidating to a witness a deposition, I find it’s rarely any more effective than good preparation. Plus, I love keeping my copy close to my chest so the opposition doesn’t know what to expect.
During the deposition, hearing, or trial, I start my arguments and quickly refer to any other documents from the opposition. At this point, I should also interject a comment about the importance of file organization and naming. I tend to use names that fully describe the document or the information. Moreover, if I’m at trial, and I have any indication of what exhibits the other side will use, I’ll prepare those for easy access and reference when needed.
Additionally, Depose is one app that’s expanding my litigation abilities. With depose, I can prepare questions for the opposing side and attach corresponding documents. I’ll still mark up my documents like I discussed above, but I’ll add a link to the document in Depose, which allows me to refer back to the exhibit during a particular line of questioning. Thus, when I have “the smoking gun” document, I can make a question in Depose that will refer me to the exhibit with my additional comments.
I also like using apps like Evernote to make comments or responses to the opposing side’s arguments. Truthfully though, because of the speed of a hearing or trial, many times I’ll make comments or notes on my copies from the other side, rather than scouring my tablet for the document. If you want to use note-taking apps, I’m finding the easiest way to to make note-taking work is to have a keyboard and just enter brief keywords or phrases with a reference to an exhibit or line of questioning. For instance, your notes might look like this:
Ex. 4 – Picture of car from right side
didn’t establish foundation
Q: who took the photograph? when? how did you get this?
Obj. to introduction?
Q: how much was the damage to your vehicle? did you have an estimate?
W testified different from depo test. CHECK!
Remember, since questions and needs move quickly during a hearing or trial, I throw out proper grammar, punctuation, and everything else. I might even use an abbreviated language to save typing time and follow the conversation. My language looks like this:
my lng lks lk ths; dft spk abt neg per se bt ddnt tll jry abt elmnts.
Here, I just eliminated unnecessary vowels to save keystrokes and still ascribe the substance of the conversation. Warning: practice well before you try this.
With a little practice and some fine-tuning, you’ll find a system that works for you. And once you do, stick with it, because it’s your system, that works, and helps you locate and use the necessary information. Soon, I think you’ll discover you’re using your tablet for more than playing Angry Birds.