I have used my iPad during oral arguments in court many times, and it has come in very handy. It is typically a replacement for carrying a big binder to the podium with cases, exhibits, transcripts, etc. Instead I drop all of the files I need into a folder in GoodReader and then I can easily get the document I need if it becomes relevant, such as if the judge asks me a question about a footnote in a case or a clause in a contract. The company TabLit Applications, founded by Detroit attorney Jeff May, created the app Oral Argument with the idea that the iPad can act as your oral argument outline. May sent me a free review copy of this $20 app. After working with it for a while, it strikes me as interesting idea for an app, but I don't think I see myself ever using this app in court.
Of course you don't need this app to put an oral argument outline on your iPad. Just create your outline on your computer, open the outline using one of the countless apps that can read Word or text files, and bingo, you have an outline on your iPad. TabLit tries to go one better than that by adding some extra bells and whistles.
When you launch the app you see your Dashboard. This is where you see a list of the oral argument outlines saved in the app. You can choose to edit an existing outline, view that outline (e.g. to use it in court), or you can add a new argument outline.
If you create a new argument or edit an existing argument, you are presented with a text editor screen. Unfortunately, this built-in editor is a disaster. The buttons are way too small and parts of the interface just don't even make sense. It looks like this is an off-the-shelf editor created for use in a web browser that the company has simply added to this app, without any attempt to conform to typical iPad style guidelines. Every other text editor I've seen on the iPad at least tries to use easy to tap buttons that take advantage of the full screen. This editor does not, plus it has blank areas that are unused, for no apparent reason. And I see there are two different buttons to create a Pop-Up Box (more on that feature in a moment) that both do the same thing. Why have two buttons? Ugh.
Perhaps recognizing that it is difficult to create and edit outlines in this editor, TabLit gives you the option of editing your outlines on a website using your computer, but to do so you need to purchase a monthly plan. For $10 a month you can edit up to 3 outlines and view your 10 most recent outlines. For $20 or $30 a month you can edit and view even more. I didn't try out the website editor, in part because those prices strike me as rather high, and in part because there is a relatively easy (and free) work-around. You can mostly ignore the built-in editor by just creating your outline on a computer, e-mailing it to yourself, and then copying the text of your outline and pasting it into the editor window.
Once your text is there, you can take advantage of another nice idea in this app, the use of Pop-Up Boxes. The idea is that your outline can mention a word or a phrase, and then you can create a hyperlink so that during oral argument you can tap to get more information. For example, in this screen I attached a Pop-Up Box to the case name "Marbury v. Madison" so that when I tap it during oral argument I see the citation and some details on the case — information that I normally wouldn't need in the outline itself, but it is there in case it becomes relevant during the oral argument.
Unfortunately, creating each Pop-Up Box is time-consuming and cumbersome. You manually create the text for the link and then the text for the Pop-Up Box, then you save it, then you put the cursor where you want it in the outline, then you tap a tiny arrow next to the Pop-Up Box item on the right side. Just creating one took me about a minute. I cannot imagine taking the time to create a whole bunch of them. And putting aside the time it takes to create the Pop-Up Boxes, when you go to use them, the text in the Pop-Up Box is small and hard to read, which would be awkward during oral argument.
You can also see in the above image that I have included two different pages, one called Point 1 and one called Point 2. (You can call them whatever you want.) The idea is that in a typical oral argument you will have a few major points to make, and you may need to address the points out of order. You may start with your first point, but the judge may then tell you he wants to talk about something that was going to be your third point. With up to six different pages in this app, you can just tap on the page tab at the top and you will instantly see the outline for that argument. This is a great idea for this app, and it is nicely implemented.
In the editor you can select the length of your oral argument, such as 15 minutes. Then, during your oral argument, you simply tap the timer button to start a count-down timer. I like the idea of seeing how much time you have remaining right next to your outline. (The program includes an option to count up instead of count down if that makes more sense to you.)
Instead of a white background, the app lets you select "Legal Pad" or "Old Paper." Both seem like horrible options to me because the backgrounds are way too busy. To my eyes, at least, they make the text too hard to read.
The large column on the right side of the screen is a place to type notes. The idea is that if you think of something at the last minute in the courtroom, or come up with a point to say in rebuttal, you can tap in the column (which brings up the iPad keyboard) and then type it here so that you have it in the margin.
Unfortunately, this notes feature also has a flaw. If you want to create a note near the bottom half of your screen, you can tap to place a cursor down there, but then when the iPad on-screen keyboard comes up, it covers the note. Thus, you cannot see what you are typing. In the previous picture, when I typed "I have another note" I couldn't see anything that I was typing until after I made the keyboard go away. Ugh again.
Utah attorney Peter Summerill reviewed this app on his MacLitigator website a few months ago, and he pointed out that the app is missing a search feature. If you have a long outline and you need to quickly find some part of it, it seems logical to have a search feature. (I presume that virtually every other iPad app that handles Word or text files includes some sort of search feature.) Perhaps that feature will come in a future update.
Ultimately, I see two reasons that I am unlikely to ever use this app. First, I just don't think that I gain enough reading an oral argument outline on the iPad. I'd rather use the iPad to hold all of my additional materials but just keep the outline on a few sheets of paper. If I want to have additional information on a particular point (the Pop-Up Box feature of this app) I can always make space for it in the outline or on another sheet of paper.
Second, even if I was going to use an iPad to hold an oral argument outline, the current version of this app (version 1.01) just has too many flaws. The editor is poorly implemented. Adding Pop-Up Boxes is time-consuming. Adding notes in the margin on the right during oral argument by typing them on the iPad screen seems to me to be MUCH slower than just jotting down notes on a legal pad, or in the margin of my printed-out outline, using a pen, and when you are in Court every second matters. TabLit CEO Jeffrey May posted a comment back on February 15, 2012 on Summerill's review of the app saying that improvements to the app are being worked on, including a better editor, and that is good to hear.
The TabLit website says that it is working on two other apps for the legal market: a trial notebook app and an app to use when taking depositions. I look forward to seeing how those apps work. A nicely-designed deposition app sounds like a great idea. But as for TabLit's Oral Argument app, perhaps some of you would find an app like this useful, but this doesn't seem like the type of app that I would want to use in court, and even if I felt differently, the flaws in the design of this version of the app are problematic. For now, the next time I have an oral argument, my iPad will be with me, but my outline will stay on paper.
UPDATE: Jeff May of TabLit posted a comment to this review that I was thought was worth including at the end of the review itself:
Thanks for the review! Everyone here at TabLit Apps appreciated the time and the honest feedback. As I said a while back on Pete's blog, we have been working on an update for Oral Argument, and I anticipate a release in the next few weeks. While we're addressing a few other issues and bugs, the major overhaul will be to the editing interface. In addition to a few other features, we're using the extra space that you noted to increase the size of the on-screen buttons. We hope that our users will continue to provide feedback so we can improve Oral Argument and our future apps.