A few weeks ago, Rob Dean and I hosted a CLE about using iPads in a law practice. We had a blast; Apple technology is famously fun to use. More to the point, state and federal appellate jurists are increasingly integrating iPads into their workflow. It’s worth learning to use this stuff if only to understand how judges are experiencing the briefs they read on the device.

But iPads have much more to offer lawyers. In fact, Kristian Brabander of McCarthy Tetrault is in the midst of a huge, possibly multi-year trial, and his entire trial team–even the really old senior lawyers–is using the iPad.

Kristian graciously agreed to do a guest post about his experience:

I have been a fan of the iPad since its inception. In fairness, I have been an Apple fan since, well, Apple. But the iPad really has changed things. Where I used to carry a briefcase or trial bag on wheels everywhere I went, I now carry only my iPad (and sometimes an accompanying Bluetooth keyboard). At this point most litigators will think: that’s all fine and dandy for everyday purposes but what happens when you get to trial?

The answer, as I have recently discovered, is that the iPad is every bit as useful as you hope it could be. Just as with anything else, however, it requires a bit of planning. The results are then spectacular.

I am currently involved in a massive civil trial. It is likely to last over a year and possibly more than two. The stakes are very, very high (even by whatever standards you use) and there are between 20 and 40 lawyers in the courtroom every day. I am only one of a team of lawyers representing a big commercial client.

Each member of our senior trial team is equipped with an iPad in court — and nothing else. (In fairness, this being a really big case, we also have a junior lawyer equipped with a laptop and an Internet connection to our document management system back at the office, just in case.) No huge collections of binders of documents, no stacks of note pads. This includes the really senior senior trial team members, the guys who still say things like, “Please take a letter” into a dictaphone.

How is this possible? How can even the senior senior trial team function with nothing but iPads? Frankly, in large part this is thanks to the simplicity – and versatility – of the iPad.

Everyone can take notes on an iPad — even dinosaurs who don’t like laptops. The options for note-taking on the iPad are staggering. On our team, people use everything from the built-in Notes app to Pages (Apple’s answer to MS Word) to Notability – and there are countless others, even for those who prefer wide-nib fountain pens. At least one of our senior trial team likes to use Numbers (Apple’s answer to MS Excel) for organized note-taking. A point worth mentioning: everything created on these apps is easily converted or exported into familiar formats like PDF, Word and Excel.

What about documents? In our case, we have a pretty good idea which witness will be testifying each day and which documents may be used with that witness. So we pre-load the trial team’s iPads with those documents, organized as if they were in a binder. If you use a document management app (e.g. Documents Pro, GoodReader) you can even have a table of contents that uses hyperlinks to the documents themselves, making it extremely easy to find and access the documents you need on the fly. This takes some forethought the first time but once you’ve understood the basic principles, you’ll find it even easier than printing a paper table of contents. It’s even better if you can have someone else do it for you and just show up to court with everything ready. Additional documents are easily added one by one.

Are you concerned about the space taken up by documents on your iPad? Don’t be. Music and videos take up a lot of space on your device, not documents. You can store thousands of documents in the same space it takes to store one movie your kids might watch on Sunday afternoon while you are busy preparing a devastating cross-examination of your opponent’s unwitting expert.

Documents can then be marked up as necessary – and individually by each lawyer on the team – using whatever tool you prefer. (Our team uses iAnnotate, GoodReader and others.) The marked-up documents can then be sent back to the mother ship for appropriate storage and treatment as PDFs before the lawyers have even left the courtroom – or even in real-time.

Documents can also be shared over our secure wifi network in the courtroom. I recognize that this is not necessarily commonplace but strongly recommend a setup like this if at all possible. A secure wifi network means safe and instant communication not only among members of the trial team but also with the mother ship and the client, all in real time.

Security is a concern for most of us. Indeed, there are often ethical obligations that apply to us as professionals to safeguard the confidentiality of documents. Some of us (we know who we are) may be legitimately concerned about leaving our iPad on the table in our favourite restaurant at lunch. Any rumours you’ve heard about lack of encryption on the iPad are simply wrong: if used properly, the iPad affords total password and encryption protection. Talk to your IT staff (assuming they’re not stuck in the Windows era) or, better yet, your local teenager. I sleep well at night knowing that my client’s confidential documents are securely hidden behind at least two levels of passwords and military-grade encryption. I also strongly recommend everyone sign up for the free Find My iPad function, which allows you to wipe the contents of your device remotely if ever you misplace it (subject to an Internet connection). Is it totally bullet-proof? No. But it is pretty darned good.

The advantages are perhaps at their clearest when we pack up to leave court for the day. We pick up our iPads and walk out, knowing that absolutely everything we need is in there. No more trial bags. Heck, this is true even during coffee breaks or the lunch hour — each lawyer can walk out of the courtroom holding, under his or her arm, all of the documents, transcripts and notes that may be useful.