Using PDFs and your iPad with iBooks app to lighten your load as you make your way to court

By Geri L. Dreiling, Esq.

Drop the file folder and pick up the iPad

It used to be that when Indiana lawyer Hunter Reece walked into bankruptcy court or a trustee’s meeting, he was toting eight to 10 files along with him. Not only was it bulky and inconvenient to flip through stacks of paper, he had to make sure that the folders were never misplaced.

About two years ago, though, when Reece bought an iPad, that all changed.

He replaced the stack of files with one electronic device. Instead of shuffling through all that paper to find the right pleading, he only had to scroll down a screen.

In this week’s Lawyer Tech Review, Reece – a rural attorney who handles a variety of matters, including bankruptcy, family law, transactional work and municipal law – explains how he was able to stop juggling cardboard and paper through the use of his first-generation iPad and wireless access.

Converting pleadings into PDFs and harnessing email

Converting document into PDF

When Reece purchased his iPad, he opted for the wireless version, skipping the 3G offering – he already had 3G access to the Internet on his iPhone, he reasoned, and he didn’t want to double the cost of data packages for his devices.

His original purpose was to load documents onto the iPad so he would no longer have to cart around brown file folders, but executing this idea wasn’t without problems.

“In the early days, as a novice iPad user, I found it frustrating to come up with a way to get documents into the iPad. There wasn’t a lot of good information and resources available, and, being the typical man, I don’t really like to read directions,” Reece confesses.

But he soon developed a fairly straightforward process for moving documents back and forth: He simply emailed himself.

After staff members scanned pleadings into a PDF, they emailed him the documents. Reece retrieved his email on the iPad, opened the PDF and stored it in iBooks, a free app. Once a document had been stored, he could delete the email. (Clickable affiliate link where you can download the app for free.)

Using iBooks to create a bookshelf of client files on your iPad

PDF bookshelf on iBooks app

In iBooks, PDFs appear on a bookshelf – but, instead of books, Reece filled his shelf with client files. Then he could populate each “book” with the case pleadings and even refer to them as he would a book’s table of contents.

When he went to court, Reece left the file in his office and took the iPad. He was able to pull up the documents he needed. On occasion, he would show opposing counsel or the judge a document by handing them the iPad.

Reece says, “The only time ‘no paper’ becomes an issue is when there is something the court would like entered into evidence that we didn’t consider. You can show trustee or attorney your screen, but you can’t hand them a piece of paper.”

However, he notes, this wrinkle is rare. Generally he knows which hard copy documents he’s going to need when he’s in court. In the near future, Apple’s AirPrint capability may allow him to circumvent the issue altogether.

Transition to cloud storage

Storing documents in the cloud

After attending the ABA Techshow, in March, Reece became interested in moving away from emailing documents and toward a cloud-based solution. He decided on a trial run: uploading seminar materials for a recent American Bankruptcy Institute meeting in New York to Dropbox.

The night before the conference, Reece says, while he was at his hotel, “I opened Dropbox on my iPad and saw that the materials were there.”

The next day, though, at the conference, he ran into a problem. There was no wireless access, and he hadn’t added the PDFs to iBooks. Without Internet access, he couldn’t retrieve the materials. It was an important test for Reece: Rather than arriving in court and discovering that he couldn’t retrieve his documents, he had been able to find out at a conference.

Ripple effect of using iPad reduces need to accommodate paper with costly square footage

Using an iPad as a file folder

The purchase of one iPad to help Reece stop carting files around has triggered a transformation in his office. Once it became apparent how easily pleadings could be converted into PDFs, Reece and his firm realized that converting their closed files into PDFs could save them space and money.

Reece explains that before he bought the iPad, the file room in his law firm was beginning to bulge at the seams. The staff had run out of room for files in the cabinets; instead, they were being stacked on the floor.

His firm was by no means an exception. “I know of one firm that is 80 or 90 years old,” Reece says, “and they have an entire floor devoted to file storage.”

Reece and his partner opted to begin converting closed files to electronic format. Though they keep the important documents – the so-called blue ink documents that need original signatures – in hard copy, they have been able to purge the remainder after scanning them into PDF format, using a copy machine that doubles as a scanner. For the effort they have hired students who come in after school and in the summer.

“We went from a having a storage room completely filled and overflowing to one that is now 40 percent empty,” Reece explains, noting that the scanning project is not yet over.

Eventually, Reece says, his firm will likely use cloud-based storage for client files.

Since the iPad purchase, Reece has found several other ways in which the tablet can be used to boost productivity. We’ll have more of his tips in upcoming weeks.

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Also in Lawyer Tech Review:

  1. How an Apple iPad Keyboard and an iPhone Made for One Happy (and Mobile) Lawyer
  2. iPad Use by Lawyers and Judges Continues to Grow
  3. iPad Apps: Lawyer Reviews iAnnotate and TrialPad Apps