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.

  • Thank you for this informative article, Judge Nuffer.

    I teach a CLE course called Pixel Persuasion: Legal Writing for the 21st Century. The program's thesis is that, while many of the basic principles of effective brief writing apply regardless of the manner in which the court consumes briefs, the electronic medium presents new opportunities to leverage both technology and principles of document design and web usability to give briefs even more persuasive power.

    I will be incorporating your observations and suggestions into future iterations of Pixel Persuasion. In that regard, can you provide more information about the report you cite in your post?

    Anyone who is interested can view Pixel Persuasion online, and get an hour of free CLE credit for doing so, by following these instructions:

    1. Go to You will see a shopping cart page with Pixel Persuasion in your cart, at a cost of $0.00.

    2. Click the "Check Out" button.

    3. If you already have a account, log in. If you don't have a account, you must create one at this page to receive your complimentary CLE credit.

    4. Once you have logged in or created a new account, you will see Pixel Persuasion in your cart. You can now download the course as an mp3 or watch the video online.

    If you're not interested in CLE credit, you can view short excerpts from the program at

  • Anonymous

    I would also like to thank you Judge Nuffer for this very interesting article which is excellent to hear about the courtrooms use of the iPad and various apps. You also mention various PDF apps like GoodReader, but another PDF app that might be worth a try/mention is Writepdf, which I tend to use more. Am looking forward to more of your postings.

  • Frank Fields

    Judge Nutter:
    Thanks for your insights. I have been using an iPad in my practice for over a year now and share your disappointment in the lack of suitable editing software.
    I have recently begun using CloudOn, which provides the full use of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint on the iPad and integrates easily with Dropbox, Box and Google Drive. It is a free product and can be downloaded at the App store. I recommend taking it out for a spin.

    Frank Fields
    Rochester, NY

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for the article, however as a bit of an insider myself, I'd like to point out that the article leaves out a substantial part of the story. The Judge's experiences with the iPad are certainly positive and the rapid rate of adoption is pretty remarkable, but what is required of local IT departments to accomodate the Apple way of doing business is quite burdensome. Many IT professionals in the courts have limited or no experience with Apple technology and the demand for the devices certainly led to some serious headaches for purchasing agents and IT staff alike. Further, security on the devices is considered 'dubious' at best by seasoned IT professionals. I seek not to take away from the success the Judges are having with them, but seek to make clear that things are not at all rosy for the courts if you are not a Judge or an executive with a purely 'end user' experience to speak of.

  • I have had a few requests for more information on the survey of judges which I reference. The report was prepared by the Federal Judicial Center with the assistance of the United States Administrative Office of the Courts. It is an internal court document and I have not yet secured permission to release it. I can say the report included the number of active and senior full-time judges in appellate, district and bankruptcy courts as of January 20, 2012, who were connected to the judiciary email system. There may be some iPads in use not connected to the judiciary email system so the report may understand iPad use. I hope this information helps.

  • Anonymous

    Great posting, and good comments too. We have many customers at LexisNexis File & Serve using iPads, especially judges. I wrote a how to guide on effectively using the system on an iPad. While the iPad doesn't have a file system that allows you to upload documents to a website for eFiling or eService, File & Serve provides judges with a "Judge Review feature" allowing them to quickly and easily grant or deny Proposed Orders. The document creation is done by the website and can therefore be done completely from an iPad. See my how to guide here:

    Dean Merritt
    Regional Project Manager,
    LexisNexis File & Serve