iAnnotate vs. TrialPad: A review of how a lawyer integrates these iPad apps into trials

Presentation on a trial using TrialPad for iPad

By Spencer E. Farris, Esq.

Recently I used an iPad in my preparations for a trial for the first time. Trial lawyers typically require document presenters such as ELMO or document cameras to project exhibits onto a screen for jurors. Although this is light-years ahead of the old-school method of mounting $150 blowups on foam board, it is still relatively primitive — and jurors who spend much of their lives watching law shows on TV are not often moved by primitive.

How to improve a trial presentation through the use of iPad apps

My real goal was to incorporate my iPad into trial work. This thing is too expensive to be a stay-at-home toy! Several trial apps are available for the iPad, but TrialPad and iAnnotate (affiliate links) are my favorites. Each offers me the ability to mark up PDF files and project them for an adapter onto a screen.

Both apps require substantial pretrial thought. If you’re using a document camera, you can decide at trial which exhibit you would like to show the jury. The trial apps require you to scan them and then turn them into PDFs before trial. Photographs must be converted to PDF as well — but modern scanners handle this task with ease. For me this was a positive, because it required me to think about my case and trial strategy a little sooner than might I normally do so.

Integration of the iAnnotate and TrialPad apps with Dropbox

Both iPad apps work well with Dropbox. We scanned documents to Dropbox and then integrated them directly from the app. TrialPad had a slight edge because it was capable of integrating folders full of documents with one click. iAnnotate required me to load documents one at a time. (Both offer integration with iTunes and e-mail attachments.) Edge: TrialPad

The price of these iPad apps for trial lawyers

Though cost shouldn’t be a factor, TrialPad’s $90 sticker is a topic of much discussion on the Internet. iAnnotate comes in at a modest $10. (The cost of either is meager compared with that of a single foamcore blowup, of course.) Edge: iAnnotate

Other iPad app tools for trial presentation

logo of iAnnotate for iPad

iAnnotate has dozens of markup tools, such as multiple highlight and pencil colors. There are also tools for underlining or striking through text in a document. TrialPad has only three tools: highlight, pencil and redact. For reasons that will become apparent in a moment, I found these three tools more than enough in my typical case. For cases that are truly document intensive, however, more is probably better. Edge: iAnnotate

A seamless trial presentation with the iPad

For a trial lawyer, the true test of trial presentation software is its capacity to seamlessly show the jury the evidence. Both iAnnotate and TrialPad allow you to put a document onscreen and mark it up in front of the jury. Both apps’ makers advertise their creations’ capacity to show the jury one document while the lawyer looks for another in his file. Switching documents onscreen with iAnnotate, however, was clunky at best. Though it’s easy to search your iPad for another document and see it yourself, the app hangs chronically when you try to switch documents on the display. I was unable to move between documents without shutting down iAnnotate repeatedly. In fact, if I changed documents too many times, iAnnotate crashed.

On the other hand, TrialPad performed flawlessly. The interface has sensible Stop, Pause, and Play buttons. You can mark up a document onscreen and then hit Play to display it to the jury. Pausing keeps that document onscreen while you pull up another document. The Play function will then publish the new document to the jury without any of the lag or flicker that plagues iAnnotate. Edge: TrialPad

At a Glance: A comparison of iPad trial apps iAnnotate and TrialPad

  • TrialPad and iAnnotate work well with Dropbox.
  • TrialPad is more expensive than iAnnotate.
  • iAnnotate has more document markup tools.
  • TrialPad’s software enables a seamless jury presentation.
  • Exhibits may be marked up on TrialPad and saved as hot docs with the original document preserved.

Additional features in the iPad trial apps

TrialPad has some other features that are simply not found in iAnnotate. If you mark up a document with the use of iAnnotate, the changes stay with the document each time you use it. TrialPad allows you to save a markup document as a “Hot Doc” while preserving the original. Hot docs are available from the document menu in a hot doc tab. This was especially useful when I wanted to mark up a document with one witness to preserve the original for later examinations. You can also rotate a page or entire multipage document onscreen with TrialPad — a lifesaver if you don’t pay attention on the scanner end. iAnnotate doesn’t have that feature, at least while projecting.

TrialPad also allows you to work on multiple cases at once and sorts your documents into folders. You can rearrange documents on the fly and rename them, then delete entire cases when you are finished with them. iAnnotate shows you all of your documents and snapshot view, unsorted. Deletion is a one-at-a-time chore.

Verdict: TrialPad wins

Logo of the TrialPad app

Though the iAnnotate app is superior for document markup, it lacks the horsepower needed to make it a credible trial presenter. The hangups and shutdowns may have been a consequence of user error, but the lag in changing documents on screen was inherent in the software. Document organization is rudimentary at best.

The TrialPad app, on the other hand, performed flawlessly from the display end. Document organization is logical from a lawyer perspective. In fairness, TrialPad was designed by lawyers for lawyers. Though it costs nine times more, it is worth it. Eighty bucks simply isn’t enough of a savings to justify bumbling in front of a jury. Or a judge. Or, most important, my client.

The principal of the St. Louis-based S.E. Farris Law Firm, Spencer Farris represents injured personal injury victims and their families in a wide variety of product liability, auto accident, medical malpractice and premises liability cases.

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