The Basics of iPad Trial Evidence Presentation
By Alexander S. Rusek – September 30, 2014
Electronic trial evidence presentation tools are constantly evolving and offering new features for attorneys to employ at trial. The most recent innovation in this arena has come in the form of powerful tablet computers, such as the Microsoft Surface, Samsung Galaxy, Lenovo ThinkPad, and—the most popular of all—Apple iPad. While this article focuses on the use of an iPad during trial, other tablets offer similar hardware and software capabilities.
An iPad not only increases an attorney’s mobility in the courtroom, but it also allows the attorney far greater control over the presentation of evidence to the judge and jury. No longer must an assisting attorney attempt to coordinate the presentation of exhibits or highlight or enlarge the exact portion of an exhibit for the presenting attorney. Rather, the presenting attorney can now easily open the exhibit he or she is about to show, highlight, zoom in on, or otherwise designate a key element of the exhibit, and do it all from wherever the attorney is located in the courtroom without delay. And if the presenting attorney still wants to have the second-chair assist with the presentation, then all it takes is a simple transfer of the iPad.
However, before any attorney uses an iPad to present to a judge or jury, the attorney must have a basic understanding of the hardware and software he or she will be using. An attorney accustomed to, and comfortable with, using an iPad to present will appear more confident and competent to the jury. An attorney lacking the requisite knowledge can easily negate any technological advantage he or she could have gained. Further, iPads and trial presentation software programs (which are called “apps” on Apple’s iOS and most other mobile operating systems), just like all forms of technology, will have issues at one point or another. The attorney relying on the technology must have the basic knowledge of the system to set it up at the start of trial and again in the event of a crash or system error.
This article first discusses the technology that may exist in the courtroom where your next trial will be held. Next, an overview of wired and wireless hardware configurations for iPad trial presentations is provided. Third, different types of software available for the iPad are discussed—from the most basic apps to apps built for the specific purpose of trial presentation. This article concludes with an examination of a few of the many uses of an iPad for trial evidence presentation.
Trial Presentation Hardware
The first step in preparing to use trial presentation technology is to learn what technology your courtroom provides and what connections are required to use the system. Courts across the country are slowly implementing new technologies, but the extent to which trial technology is adopted varies wildly between states, federal districts, and even courthouses in a single city. Many courtrooms still provide no means for attorneys to electronically present evidence. Other courts have fully embraced technology and provide presentation systems consisting of multiple screens, multiple connection options, and touchscreen annotation abilities. A phone call to the judge’s chambers or the court reporter and a visit to the courtroom to test your technology is a must before trial. One important—but easily forgotten—detail is the availability of power outlets in the courtroom. If you intend on bringing one or more laptops to trial, a router, another device, or a charger for your iPad or other devices, you can easily require more outlets than available, thereby requiring you to bring a power strip and possibly an extension cord.
Wired Configuration. Using an iPad at trial need not be complicated. The most basic iPad trial presentation configuration, one that is wired, is set up and functions much like a traditional computer presentation configuration, albeit with the important advantage of a semimobile touchscreen. The basic hardware required for such a setup is an iPad or other tablet, an adaptor that will convert the iPad’s charging port to a VGA (video graphic array) or HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) port, a VGA or HDMI cable, and finally an output device such as a television, projector and screen, or the courtroom’s audio/visual system. These items are all easily obtainable from Apple, Amazon, or a local electronics store.
In order to display, or “mirror,” the screen of the iPad on the output device, the VGA or HDMI adaptor is first plugged into the iPad’s charging port. Then, the VGA or HDMI cable is plugged into the adaptor on one end, and into the output device’s video-in VGA or HDMI input port. After this point, it is merely a matter ensuring that the output device is set to the correct input. The iPad should automatically mirror itself onto the output device. Once properly configured, anything displayed on the iPad’s screen will be displayed on the output device, albeit with a small amount of lag between screens. It should be noted that all notifications should be turned off in the iPad’s settings prior to trial to prevent unwanted notifications from being presented to the entire courtroom. This can be done in the iPad’s Settings app.
A wired iPad offers several advantages over a wireless setup. First, a wired iPad is much quicker to get up and running compared to a wireless presentation setup. Further, a wired iPad is less likely to experience disconnections or other interruptions during trial because there are fewer parts that need to be connected and interact with each other. A wired iPad also offers the advantage of being relatively easy to learn how to use—an important feature for new iPad users.
The wired iPad does have some disadvantages. Most importantly, it restricts the ability of the attorney to move about the courtroom. Further, a long wire connecting the attorney to a television or podium does not have the sleek appearance that a wireless setup offers. The necessity of a wire may also restrict the ability to give the iPad to a witness or second-chair attorney. For most uses, though, these drawbacks will not outweigh the benefits an iPad can bring to the courtroom.
Wireless Configuration. For the attorney who desires to present wirelessly using an iPad, a more complex, but not unmanageable, setup is required. To present wirelessly using an iPad, an attorney will require an iPad (some older iPads or iPads still using older versions of iOS may be incompatible), Apple TV, wireless router, HDMI or VGA cable, and HDMI-to-VGA adaptor if the output device or courtroom does not offer an HDMI input.
The first step is to connect the iPad to a wireless router. The wireless router will allow you to create a private network that can be accessed by your iPad and Apple TV simultaneously. While it may be possible to use the public wireless network provided in the courtroom, it is more reliable to bring your own wireless router. Wireless routers designed for consumer or small business use are generally more than adequate. Manufacturer’s such as ASUS, Apple, Linksys, and Cisco, among others, make routers of varying quality at different price points. Another attractive option are routers called pocket, mobile, micro, or mini routers. ASUS, D-Link, TP-Link and others make pocket routers that weigh only a few ounces, and can even weigh less than 20 grams. It is important to remember that the wireless router will likely require an additional power outlet.
Apple TV is a device that enables an attorney to wirelessly mirror his or her iPad’s screen onto the desired output device. The Apple TV is plugged into the output device via a VGA or HDMI cable. If the output device only has a VGA input available, then a simple HDMI-to-VGA adaptor will need to be connected to the Apple TV’s output port. The Apple TV is then connected wirelessly to the same wireless router as the iPad. From here, it is only a matter of turning on AirPlay in the iPad’s Control Center (accessed by swiping up in iOS 7 and later) and directing the iPad to mirror its screen to the output device.
There are multiple pros and cons to using a wireless iPad in the courtroom. The most obvious benefit is the mobility gained by the attorney. No longer is the attorney tethered to a podium or counsel table. This mobility also allows a witness to take hold of the iPad and make annotations while testifying. A nonquantifiable benefit may come in the form of the “wow factor” that a wireless and seemingly effortless presentation can create for the judge and jury.
However, a wireless iPad configuration also brings with it the complexity of setting up a private wireless network in the courtroom and connecting multiple devices together through it. As with many things in life, the more complex the system, the greater the chance that there will be a malfunction at some point. While Apple has gone to great lengths to make the iPad and Apple TV user friendly, complexity must still be taken into account. An attorney may choose to have a wired backup option available for this reason, and the competent practitioner will allot extra time to learning to set up and use a wireless iPad.
Display. The final component for either a wired or wireless iPad presentation is a means to display the presentation to the judge and jury. For courtrooms that provide no presentation technology, an attorney will need to bring his or her own projector and screen to court. Modern projectors have VGA or HDMI inputs. HDMI cables carry both video and audio, while VGA cables only carry video. If audio will be played in court, the limitations of the attorney’s speakers and the required additional connections must be considered.
If a courtroom does have presentation technology, it can come in many different forms. One courtroom may have a VGA or HDMI connection available at the counsel table or at the podium. Another courtroom may require the attorney to connect his or her iPad directly into a television or monitor. The courtroom could also have any number of other connections or interfaces. Again, prior knowledge of the courtroom’s technological configuration is crucial to avoid a last-minute search for an essential adaptor or cable.
In one Michigan circuit court courtroom, there are varying models of displays located (1) at the counsel tables, (2) at the podium and witness stand, (3) at the bench and court reporter’s seat, (4) in front of every other juror, and (5) on the wall opposite the jury box. The different model displays have different aspect ratios, varying resolutions, and inconsistent color balances. These differences must be taken into account when preparing for trial. If possible, each exhibit or slide should be tested on the various displays in the courtroom to ensure that the exhibits are easily viewable, colors are represented accurately, and any text can be read from the jury box and the bench.
Trial Presentation Software
Trial attorneys have a wide array of options for trial presentation software. There are many basic apps, such as Adobe Reader, that can be used to present evidence. General presentation apps, such as Microsoft PowerPoint for iPad and Apple Keynote, offer a user experience very similar to the desktop versions of PowerPoint and Keynote. Finally, there are apps that have been developed specifically for the purpose of presenting evidence at trial. Lit Software’s TrialPad and inData’s Trial Director for iPad are examples of purpose-built apps for attorneys.
For most situations, an attorney will want to convert his or her exhibits to PDF format prior to trial for ease of use and compatibility reasons. The exhibits then must be transferred to the iPad. An increasingly useful method is to store the exhibits in a cloud storage service and then download them to the iPad. Services such as Dropbox, Box.com, and Microsoft’s SkyDrive are compatible with iPads and many legal apps. Once the exhibits are on an iPad, the attorney must decide what program to use to display them.
General purpose apps, such as Adobe Reader, can be used effectively to present PDF and other files at trial. Adobe Reader allows an attorney to display PDF files, highlight specific portions of the document, and even draw on the document. However, the app was not built as presentation software and can be cumbersome for this purpose. There are many apps available to view PDFs and other files that are best classified as “basic apps” for the presentation of evidence at trial. They are usable, but lack certain advanced features that make other options more attractive.
Apps designed as presentation software, such as Apple Keynote and the recently released Microsoft PowerPoint for iPad, can be effective trial presentation tools. Both Keynote and PowerPoint for iPad will be familiar to users of the desktop versions of PowerPoint and Keynote. This type of app can be used to create visually striking presentations, and is particularly effective for openings and closings at trial to present key points on slides.
Presentation apps also include highlighting tools, drawing tools, and “laser pointers” that can be used to draw attention to specific portions of a slide or exhibit. One limitation with these apps is a limited ability zoom in or call out portions of slides. Another limitation is limited or no support for displaying PDFs, thus requiring the extra step of converting PDFs to slides. As a result of these limitations, presentation apps may be best reserved for openings or closings.
In recent years, there has been an influx of specialized trial presentation software. Apps such as TrialPad, Trial Director for iPad, and Exhibit A are leaders in this category, but new apps are released constantly. These apps range from free for Trial Director for iPad to $89.99 for TrialPad.
In general, trial presentation apps can display multiple document formats, but an attorney may still be best served by using PDF files as often as possible. Within the app, PDFs can be marked with digital exhibit stickers for easy identification. Trial presentation apps also include tools that allow an attorney to quickly highlight a portion of an exhibit, enlarge or call out portions of the exhibit, free-form draw on the exhibit, and even compare two exhibits side by side. A standard tool in most trial presentation apps is a laser pointer that allows an attorney to touch a point on the exhibit and have a red dot appear on both the iPad’s screen and the display screen. For portions of exhibits that are not to be shown to the jury, trial presentation apps include redaction tools.
Certain trial presentation apps can also display videos and transcripts. There are also apps built specifically for viewing transcripts, such as TranscriptPad. Many of the tools that allow annotation on PDF and photo files are available for use in presenting videos and transcripts.
When evaluating which trial presentation app to use, every attorney should experiment with the different options available. One app may offer more intuitive controls to one attorney, but come off as clumsy or overly complicated to another. Further, attorneys may find that one app offers the type and style of annotation tools they prefer. Another consideration is whether the app offers integration with online cloud services that many attorneys have started to use. For example, TrialPad offers integration with Dropbox and Box.com cloud storage. It is up to each individual attorney to find software that he or she will be comfortable using under the pressures of trial.
Using an iPad at Trial
Once the hardware is configured and software is downloaded to an iPad, it is time to present to the judge and jury. While this article focuses on using an iPad to present at trial, more and more attorneys are using apps during jury selection. Apps such as JuryPad, iJuror, iJury, and many others allow an attorney to keep track of jurors and enter notes during voir dire. The first time an attorney is likely to present using an iPad is during the attorney’s opening statement. Presentation apps such as Keynote or PowerPoint for iPad are particularly useful for presenting key points and even statutes and jury instructions. An iPad can be used in a similar manner during closing.
The bulk of an iPad’s usefulness will come when offering exhibits into evidence during the questioning of witnesses. The procedure of entering exhibits into evidence will vary by jurisdiction. Generally, a hard copy of the exhibit or electronic copy on a compact disk will be entered into evidence prior to publishing the electronic copy of an exhibit stored on the iPad. It can be beneficial to confer and stipulate to the process of electronic publication with opposing counsel prior to trial to avoid lengthy objections and delays to the attorney’s presentation.
There are many possible uses for an iPad at trial. One use for an iPad at trial is to present photographs, diagrams, maps, or other visual exhibits to the jury. Of course, an iPad can present an exhibit by itself, but an iPad shines when the witness and attorney interact with it. The attorney can zoom in on a specific portion of the exhibit and ask questions. The attorney can also use a drawing tool to circle or otherwise draw attention to a specific portion of the exhibit. The attorney can even hand the iPad to the witness and have the witness annotate the exhibit. Most trial presentation apps also allow an attorney to export an annotated exhibit to a PDF file so that it is preserved for future use. After it has been saved, an annotated exhibit can be printed and offered as its own exhibit. This process can be repeated and used for cross-examination or closing purposes.
Another method to employ an iPad at trial is to present written documents, including transcripts. At the most basic level, the iPad can simply show a PDF document to the jury. Utilizing a trial presentation app allows an attorney to highlight or annotate sections of documents while questioning a witness. No longer does a witness have to spend time searching for the portion of a document that the questioning attorney has referred to—the attorney simply highlights the exact portion that is the subject of questioning. Another useful feature is known as a “callout tool.” The callout tool allows an attorney to select a portion of an exhibit that is then enlarged and imposed on top of the exhibit for ease of reading. This tool can be used in conjunction with a highlighting tool or drawing tool to direct a jury’s attention to key portions of a document.
It is increasingly common to use video at trial. Video may be come in the form of a recording of an event at issue in the case, de bene esse depositions, animated recreations of events, or any other number of possible forms. When converted to the right format and downloaded to an attorney’s iPad, an attorney can present the video directly from the iPad’s trial presentation app. The latest iPad trial presentation apps even include simple video editing tools that allow an attorney to select key parts of the video and do other basic video editing.
Many iPad trial presentation apps can also present multiple exhibits at the same time. This allows a witness to compare exhibits, or different parts of the same exhibit, and testify to their similarities or differences. Each exhibit can be independently annotated to draw attention to relevant portions. Possible uses for this tool may arise during the testimony of an expert in handwriting analysis or during the presentation of contradictory clauses in different portions of a contract.
An iPad can provide an effective means to reach a judge or jury through the use of visual evidence and argument, and this article has only scratched the surface of the capabilities of an iPad at trial. Today’s most popular trial presentation apps offer a wide array of tools for an attorney, and the future will only bring more advanced features to the courtroom. An attorney who learns how to effectively employ courtroom technology can offer a service to his or her clients above and beyond what has been possible in the past.
For the attorney who seeks to learn more about iPad trial evidence presentation, there are many resources available in print and online. Many bar associations have recognized the growing demand for iPad-specific resources and have begun to offer CLE classes and manuals for the iPad-wielding attorney. For example, the State Bar of Michigan offers resources through its Practice Management Resource Center, and the American Bar Association offers a series of books written for attorneys in the process of learning how to use their iPads. These resources provide a more thorough explanation of the available features of specific iPads and apps than the scope of this article aims to present, and can be valuable information sources for attorneys to rely on when deciding whether or not to use an iPad during their next trial.
Keywords: electronic trial evidence presentation, tablet computers, hardware, software, courtroom technology
Alexander S. Rusek is with White Law PLLC in Okemos, Michigan.