We’ve all heard the maxim, "necessity is the mother of invention" and ExhibitsPad is proof of that saying.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were tasked with a way to hygienically distribute documents to all the parties in a federal trial. This was a hybrid trial where evidence was being presented using TrialPad on the screens in the courtroom, and over Zoom at the same time. Some witnesses were appearing remotely via Zoom, but others would appear in person, and both sides and the judge would be in the courtroom and needed the ability to review the documents being discussed.
This could have been accomplished with binders, but because it was many thousands of pages, it would have been a lot of binders! Additionally, there would need to be a new clean set of binders for each witness. And as the trial progressed, more exhibits would be admitted. This seemed like an overwhelming task for paper, but an ideal use of the iPad, a glass surface that can be easily wiped clean and disinfected. Both parties and the judge agreed to this novel approach.
Knowing that the iPad would be the ideal medium, we looked at various apps that might accomplish this in an easy and efficient way. We obviously considered our own TrialPad and DocReviewPad as ways for users to review evidence. Both of these apps are very powerful and easy-to-use tools with specific purposes, but neither was an ideal solution to be given to the parties as a way to review documents and videos. There needed to be a simple app specifically designed to distribute exhibits.
It became obvious that if we created an app like this, it could have many other uses in legal proceedings. Besides being used by the judge and parties during this trial, iPad devices could be loaded with all the evidence introduced during the trial, and given to jurors to review during deliberations. Each juror could use an identically prepared court-issued iPad with all the exhibits, while remaining socially distanced, and not having to share paper and binders.
The initial costs of purchasing iPad devices would soon turn into a cost savings over purchasing multiple binders for every matter, and the associated printing costs. Loading and preparing iPad devices would also be much faster than printing and organizing binders, with the added benefit of knowing that the evidence on one iPad was an exact mirrored copy of the evidence on the other iPad devices.
Even after the pandemic, when we’re vaccinated and feeling safe enough to interact with others again, this type of app would still be useful to distribute evidence to jurors for deliberations. Besides containing all the documents and color photo exhibits that can be zoomed in on; it can also include audio recordings, video depositions, and other multimedia files that each juror can play, pause, rewind, or scrub through.
We evaluated other simple PDF apps available on the App Store but there was something with each app that didn't make it suitable for a legal proceeding. We decided we had to make an app ourselves, but it required some important features and capabilities:
- A court employee had to be able to load evidence into the app easily and quickly.
[We decided in making a USB drive the main way this is accomplished.]
- The court employee loading the evidence needed a way to confirm that every iPad had the exact same set of exhibits. [We accomplished this by having a document, page, and multimedia count on the Home Screen of ExhibitsPad.]
- There couldn't be any possibility that exhibits from a previous matter could get left in the app and get mixed with the new case being deliberated. [Every import of exhibits will completely replace the exhibits of any previous import.]
- It had to be easy to use for non-technically proficient users to review the evidence. [We decided on text buttons or simple icons, with large touch targets.]
- The app had to be very intuitive with a minimum learning curve, not requiring a manual or training. [We kept everything to one screen with a flat hierarchy so that users, with different comfort levels when it came to technology, couldn't get lost within the app.]
- There had to be a robust and easy search capability to find an exhibit, even if hundreds of exhibits were part of the case. [A larges search field is always at the top of the screen.]
- The search should search the file names (i.e. exhibit numbers or parts of names), but not search the OCR data to prevent a juror from using the power of the iPad to mine the data. [As a user types in the search field the files are filtered to only show documents or multimedia files that contain those characters.]
- The end user shouldn't be able to exit the app, possibly accessing the internet or using other apps. [Accomplished with Guided Access and a password is required to get to the Home Screen.]
- The end user should be able to take a snapshot of a particular page of a document to be able to reference it later. [A snapshot tool stores any snapshots in a dedicated Snapshots area in the app.]
- There should be some way for the user to annotate a snapshot of an exhibit without altering the original exhibit. [Any snapshots that are taken can be annotated with Apple’s familiar markup tools.]
- We wanted to allow the owner of ExhibitsPad to be able to restrict the end user to only be able to use ExhibitsPad, and that can be done using Apple’s Guided Access which is built into iPadOS. This feature can limit the end user to one app, preventing a juror from doing their own research on the internet.
We also wanted to make sure the juror or witness couldn't get back to the Home Screen of ExhibitsPad and delete the exhibits, or somehow try to add more exhibits. We accomplished this by adding a Password setting in the Settings app of ExhibitsPad. When a password is enabled, the user has to enter this password in order to get back to the Home screen in ExhibitsPad. This feature, combined with Guided Access, makes sure that when you hand the iPad to the juror or witness, they stay within the guardrails!
These requirements drove the development of ExhibitsPad, an easy-to-use, single-purpose app designed to allow the end user to review exhibits, whether they be documents or multimedia.
ExhibitsPad can be used just as easily in deposition, with the questioning lawyer arriving with an iPad, or multiple iPad devices, loaded with the exhibits they intend to discuss. Or have ExhibitsPad empty, and then AirDrop exhibits one at a time for the witness to review as they’re being discussed, controlling the delivery and pace of the exhibits without giving anything away at the outset of the deposition.