For the past few weeks, I've been preparing for an oral argument before the U.S. Fifth Circuit, which took place yesterday. My iPad has been a critical part of of the process, so I thought I'd talk about some of the ways that I have been using my iPad to prepare for and present my oral argument. I happen to be using as 12.9" iPad Pro, and that huge screen was fantastic as I reviewed items in the record on appeal. Nevertheless, everything that I did would have worked with other iPad models too.
Record on Appeal
The Fifth Circuit is completely electronic and paperless. You file a brief by using a website (somewhat similar to the Pacer system used at the federal district court level). Judges also read briefs using iPads, as has been previously reported by Ray Ward, an appellate attorney at my firm who publishes the Louisiana Civil Appeals blog. So unsurprisingly, the Record on Appeal is also provided in an electronic format. You download it using the Fifth Circuit's (rather clunky) Java-based system using a computer.
In my case, the Record on Appeal consisted of a docket sheet plus 22 volumes, each a separate PDF file. Each volume contained around 400 pages. The bottom right of each page had an annotation with the page number, affixed by the district court when it prepared the Record on Appeal.
The first thing that I did was rename each of those PDF files so that the title corresponded to the page number of the first page in the volume, such as 3532.pdf, 3932.pdf, 4332,pdf, 4720.pdf, 5018.pdf, etc. That way, I could quickly determine which volume contained a specific page. For example, if I wanted page 3894, I knew that it was in the file called 3532.pdf because the next volume started with a number higher than 3894. I actually did all of this way back when I was drafting my Appellee Brief, but it remained just as useful in preparing for oral argument.
Inside of the folder in my Dropbox associated with this case, I created a subfolder called Record on Appeal and added all of the PDF files. Then, I used the GoodReader app to sync everything into GoodReader on my iPad.
Most of the items in the Record on Appeal in my case were already OCR'd. For example, any brief filed at the district court level was a PDF created from a word processing document, and thus already had the text embedded in the PDF file. Additionally, in my cases, most of the depositions were also filed in a format with text embedded. However, for volumes with important information that I would want to be able to search using a full text search, I used a program on my PC to OCR the document and saved that version into my folder. Having a document or exhibit OCR'd is also handy if you want to highlight words in the document.
As a part of my preparation for oral argument, I reviewed the entire Record on Appeal. (Of course, I had already looked at most of it to prepare my Appellee Brief a few months back.) As I reviewed the record, whenever I came across something important I annotated it, either using the highlight feature of GoodReader, or sometimes by using a stylus to circle something and/or make notes in the margins. For particularly important items, I used the Bookmarks feature of GoodReader so that I could jump directly there in the future.
One nice feature of the electronic Record on Appeal is that it already contained a built-in outline of the items. Thus, I could use the Outline feature of GoodReader to see an index of all of the items in each volume of the record, which made it quick to jump around.
After reviewing the Record on Appeal on my iPad, annotating and/or bookmarking what was important, and then returning to the important parts to review them again, I had a pretty good handle on the facts in the record.
Of course, the facts are half of the story; you also need to know the law. I downloaded in PDF format from Westlaw or Lexis each of the important cases cited in any of the briefs, and even some cases not cited in the briefs but that could be relevant, and put them all in a folder on Dropbox called Research. I synced those over to my iPad as well so that I could read, highlight, and annotate cases.
As you can guess, I also had another folder on Dropbox with all of the appellant and appellee briefs in my case.
GoodReader was the main app that I used to prepare for oral argument, but I used some others as well. My particular case happened to involve a series of houses in a certain neighborhood of New Orleans. I used the Apple Maps app to get a general overview — a bird's eye view — of what the neighborhood looked like. I also used Google Maps and its Streeview feature to see what particular houses looked like from the street. None of this was in the record so it isn't like I would specifically reference in oral argument something that I saw, but these mapping apps helped me to get a general understanding of the properties at issue in my case.
I used the Westlaw app to do legal research on my iPad. Of course with the briefs already submitted most of the core research had already been done, but it was still helpful to read key cases in those apps and then learn how other courts quoted and dealt with those cases.
As I prepared for oral argument, I used Microsoft Word on my computer to take notes and prepare the outline of my argument. While I did most of that work on my computer, I also sometimes used the Microsoft Word app on my iPad to modify those documents. For example, one night I was on my couch at home reviewing cases and I thought of another argument, so I used the LogMeIn app to connect to my work computer and access my outline, opened it in Word on my iPad, made the changes to the outline, and then saved the file back to my work computer.
In this particular case I was brought in as appeal counsel, and thus I worked with the PDF copies of transcripts in the Record on Appeal. However, had I been involved in the case at the district court level, I suspect that the deposition and hearing transcripts would have already been in the TranscriptPad app on my iPad and I might have used that app to read and annotate transcripts. But in this case, I didn't happen to use TranscriptPad.
The net result
As a result of the above activities, I had the record, the caselaw, and everything else that I needed to prepare for oral argument on my iPad. This was very convenient because whether I was working in my office, at home, in a conference room at my firm, or in another attorney's office, I always had instant access to all aspects of the case.
It wasn't that many years ago that I was working on appeals with the record in paper form, bound in volumes that took up many boxes. I would spread them out on a table and make that the war room for my appeal, but it meant that every time I wanted to review the record I had to go to that room. It is infinitely more convenient to have all aspects of the record with me at all times, just a tap or two away.
The day of oral argument
As I noted in a post last year, the Fifth Circuit generally does not allow you to use electronic devices in the courtroom. Your iPhone must be turned off — not just airplane mode. However, the Fifth Circuit adopted a rule in January of 2015 (available here) which states that "an attorney presenting argument or assisting at counsel table may use a laptop, tablet, or similar device."
In fact, as I entered the courtroom of the Fifth Circuit yesterday, I saw a sign confirming the same policy:
I took full advantage of this policy. No, I didn't use my iPad to be paperless during oral argument. For example, my outline was on the front and back of a single sheet of paper. Because I memorized my prepared comments, I didn't really need that sheet of paper much, but it was comforting to know that it was there. (And given the number of questions that the judges asked, I didn't follow the outline anyway.) Also, I had printed out that short Microsoft Word file that contained my notes, such as information on the important cases, additional information about items in the record on appeal, etc. I also printed out the two most important cases so that I could more easily quote from them during oral argument if necessary. (I turned out, that wasn't necessary because the few quotes I needed were on my outline.)
But thanks to my iPad, I didn't need to also lug around a ton of paper, binders, etc. with all of the briefs, other cases, the Record on Appeal, etc. If I needed to look up something from the record or a case as my opponent was arguing, everything was on my iPad so I could do so — complete with all of the annotations I created as I prepared for oral argument. Thus, I had the security of knowing that everything was with me, without all of the cumbersome paper that would have make it virtually impossible to quickly jump to the one page that I need. And when I went up to the podium, I just took those few sheets of paper including my outline and notes, my iPad, and the legal pad that I had used to take notes while my opponent spoke.
There were a few settings on my iPad that I changed the morning of oral argument. First, I turned the volume all the way down to zero. Second, in the Settings app, I went to General -> Auto-Lock and changed it from my normal 5 minutes to Never. That way, if I had an important case or record item on my screen, it would stay on my screen without having my lock screen show up after a few minutes. In court, I did not tether to my iPhone (which was off) or attempt to connect to any Wi-Fi network because I didn't want any text messages, emails, or other alerts showing up on my screen. (My iPad doesn't have a built-in cellular connection, but if it did, I would have turned it off.)
Obviously, I don't yet know whether I will win or lose this appeal. But whatever the result, I was much better prepared thanks to my iPad. [UPDATE 8/8/16: Fortunately, I did win!] The annotation tools in GoodReader were incredibly helpful and easy to use, and the time that I saved not searching for paper (or traveling to a file room containing all of that paper) gave me much more time to analyze the facts and the law.
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