Image [cc] David Ortez

The consumerization of technology is a hot topic in the legal market. But one overlooked corner of the market also experiencing this trend is the courts. Today’s guest post comes from inside the courts to examine the same phenomenon there. Judge David Nuffer, of the Federal District Court in Utah, offers this insider’s view of how federal judges are embracing consumer technology. Judge Nuffer is also a past-president of the Utah State Bar and just generally a nice guy.
According to a recent report, 58% of Federal Judges use an iPad for their court work.  Two-thirds of the iPads in use are iPad2s.  As expected, the tech-savvy (and tech-dependent) community of bankruptcy judges leads with a 70% use rate.  For a device introduced only two years ago, and a very conservative user base, this is a remarkable rate of market penetration.

The iPads have replaced laptops for many judges.  Judges find the iPad very intuitive and less daunting than a laptop, and IT staff finds the iPad easier to support and less prone to technical issues.

According to surveys, federal judges use the iPad most for email, where the iPad’s large screen beats smaller mobile devices for easy reading of emails and attachments.  Most judges also use an iPad for general reading because electronically filed documents are all PDF format.  Apps such as PDF Expert, iAnnotate and Goodreader work well with these PDF documents.  The documents can be annotated while reading and the annotations persist when the document is returned to chambers storage servers.  Judges appreciate the ability to take voluminous documents with them in the same device they use for email.  This results in less printing of electronically filed papers.

iPads, using the native keyboard or Apple’s quiet Bluetooth keyboard, are often used for courtroom notetaking.  Judges also use the iPad to refer to checklists and guides while on the bench.

Some judges use remote desktop control apps to gain access to full features of their court computers.  The Federal Judicial Center, the educational arm of the federal courts, makes podcasts of judicial conferences and seminars available for download to the iPad. The speech-to-text dictation feature of the new iPad holds promise for judges.  Unfortunately, this feature won’t work with earlier models.

Challenges with iPad include the courts’ continued use of WordPerfect, which has no editor for the iPad.  While WordPerfect documents may be read on the iPad, they cannot be effectively edited.  Those chambers which have moved to use Microsoft Word have several editor options on the iPad but none as robust as are needed for complicated documents with footnotes and tables of contents.  Another challenge for judges is the concern about security of documents “in the cloud” and the peer-to-peer nature of many cloud storage applications.

Counsel submitting documents in the federal electronic filing system can make documents friendly for the iPad by ensuring that text-based PDF documents are filed – or if a scanned exhibit must be filed, run OCR on it before filing.  These text based PDF documents are much easier to search and annotate.  Also, bookmarks (automatically generated by most word processors and preserved in PDF conversion) make PDF documents easy to navigate.  Finally, knowing a judge may read on the iPad could motivate wise use of color and inclusion of graphics.