When I talk about how attorneys can use an iPad in court, I'm usually referring to litigators. However, Judge Dan Hinde of the 269th District Court of Harris County in Houston, Texas recently took the time to share with me how judges are also using iPads in the courtroom. He was kind enough to let me share his thoughts here. Here is what Judge Hinde told me:
The "Judicial" iPad
As courts go, the civil district courts in Harris County, Texas are relatively high-tech. We have fairly modern audio-visual equipment in each courtroom. Lawyers can electronically file documents, and since around 2008, all of the courts are “paperless.” By this I mean that our case files are now kept electronically. Electronic filings go straight to the file without being printed out, and paper filings are scanned into each case file. Thanks to the District Clerk’s Office, lawyers can access documents in case files on the internet.
This has greatly diminished the volume of paper handled by the courts. But it does not mean the judges have less to read. (The number of new cases in Harris County have actually risen since 2008.) Instead, it has led us judges to change how we read, absorb, and analyze materials submitted for our consideration. We all pretty much read case files on our desktop computers. We can also access our files remotely on laptops via several options for secure access. And a few of us our now using iPads to review briefs and motions. But I think this is just the start.
I received my iPad 2 in April and have worked with the IT departments of the courts and the clerk’s office to find some great ways to securely access briefs and exhibits in an organized, efficient way. I can now download all the briefs and exhibits related to any motion on my docket onto my iPad to review later using GoodReader. I can access our network for any additional materials securely through a VPN as well as a Citrix client app.
Legal research will become even more efficient. I now have the entire set of Texas statutes, including the Texas Constitution, all of the Texas codes, and the Revised Civil Statutes, on my iPad using RealTek’s Texas Statutes app. (The printed volumes take up about 8-10 bookshelves in my office.) So instead of having to run back to my chambers in the middle of a hearing to look up an obscure statutory reference (or instead of logging onto Westlaw or Lexis), I can simply open up this app and look up the statute being cited to me.
Similarly, Fastcase’s iPad app provides quick access to cases, albeit without any headnotes or subsequent history information. I have also bookmarked the websites for the Texas Administrative Code and Westlaw for access to other materials. While the Black’s Law Dictionary app is a little pricey for me (I tend to download only free apps or iBooks), I do have Nolo’s free law dictionary for use when I need to know the difference between a cestui que use and a cestui que trust.
Of course, I have downloaded one of the free Constitution apps available on iTunes. And through iBooks, I have a free copy of certain secondary authorities, like The Federalist Papers and Democracy in America.
But I see so much more potential for this device. As lawyers and parties look for ways to reduce costs, I think videoconferencing may become more prevalent. Before the iPad, the equipment costs made videoconferencing cost-prohibitive under our tight budgets. But now it is an option worth considering for hearings and status conferences given the number of videoconferencing apps like FaceTime, Skype, WebEx, and Yahoo Messenger, among others.
District judges in Texas have a very small staff. Few, if any, have a secretary, so having speech-recognition software like Dragon Dictation’s iPad app could help us draft materials more quickly. The various note-taking apps give us the opportunity to take notes on the bench or at home while listening to arguments and testimony or reading briefs and keep these notes in an organized manner and close to hand.
These are just some of the uses I see for the iPad as a judge. I am sure there are more on the way. I look forward to exploring them.
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Thank you to Judge Hinde for sharing his iPad experiences with the readers of iPhone J.D. With a population of 4.1 million, Harris County has (according to Wikipedia) the third largest population of any county in the United States. It is great to hear that courts in that large and important jurisdiction are making the most of technology. You can learn more about Judge Hinde in his biography on his court's website, you can follow Judge Hinde on Twitter (@JudgeDanHinde), or you can see him in person on the 13th floor of the Harris County Civil Courthouse in Houston, Texas.