App Review: rulebook – Electronic Legal Rules on the iPad

Remember that old Rules of Evidence book you have laying around with the stickies hanging off the side, notes scribbled in the margins and highlighting on important language? A new app developer has put out an app that gets oh-so-close to recreating that book on your iPad. Best of all, when the rule gets updated, all your annotations get transferred to the new rule.

Annotating Rules of Evidence, Civil Procedure etc. in ‘rulebook.’

The app allows you to add bookmarks, highlights (limited to a single color throughout your rule sets) and notes. All of these items ‘stick’ whenever the rule gets re-written or updated. Notes, highlights and bookmarks can be seen in a summary pane so you can quickly jump to those sections. A hand-annotated Federal Rules of Evidence hardbound copy will eventually become obsolete through re-writes of the rules, forcing you to hand transfer your notes over to a new book. rulebook attempts to correct that problem by carrying over your annotations to the new rule set.

And, it almost gets there. Recently the Utah Rules of Appellate procedure received an update. Some language was altered, some language was deleted and moved to a new section. Testing indicated that, where the language was merely altered, the annotations stuck. But, with the deleted and moved language, the annotations themselves were lost, although the Bookmark/Note/Highlight still shows in the summary pane.

User Interface on rulebook

It is both a bright future, and still a bit quirky when it comes to the interface. Rulebook uses the standard iPad interface with items in the left pane and content on the right. The unique feature is the ability to open multiple rules in a separate ‘window’ in the right pane. This works for cross-referenced rules as well. So, reading Utah R. Evid. 608’s cross-reference to Utah R. Evid. 403, tapping on the hyperlinked ‘Rule 403’ opens a new pane, allowing you to read the reference without losing your place.

There are, however, a few quirks. Quickly jumping back and forth between rules, closing rule sets and opening new rules led to a freeze on one of the windows. Also, while the navigation is unique, it can feel a bit odd at times. A tabbed interface alá Safari/Firefox might be more intuitive for displaying the cross-referenced rule.

Finally, the app does include a decent search feature which allows searching for a Phrase, All Words or Any Word, no boolean yet. The nice part about the search feature is that the results pane pulls up individual sub-sections of a single rule, allowing you to quickly get to the relevant section in a long rule as opposed to hunting around. The search pane results also tell you the number of hits in each result. Unfortunately, there is no next-previous search hit function and you are forced to return to the search pane to jump around.

Right now, rule sets are only available for the Federal courts, California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Nersey, New York, Texas and Utah. The Federal Rules of Evidence are free so you can get a feel for the app and decide if it’s something that fits for you. Other rule sets are very reasonably priced at at .99¢ each. If you are lucky enough to live in one of the currently covered jurisdictions, rulebook is well worth picking up and using. The developer is a practicing attorney and uses his own app on a daily basis. Speaking with him recently, there are some really big plans behind the app and things in the works. rulebook should get much better with time.


iPad Notetaking Apps – Deathmatch 2012

Last September’s post regarding handwritten note taking iPad apps presented 5 apps for consideration. Since that time, the number of note taking apps has exploded. Among the standout additions to the shootout: GoodNotes is just about the perfect app for taking handwritten notes, including annotating on top of PDFs because of its simplicity and the manner in which the zoom box moves as you write; Readdle has introduced Remarks, a really beautiful and smooth note taking app.

Further, apps which were formerly oriented toward traditional PDF annotation (you know, highlights, boxes, comments, but the pen tool sucks) now offer a serious handwriting experience. Specifically, PDFExpert, GoodReader and iAnnotate all allow a decent ink and paper feel for annotating with handwritten notes. GoodReader even incorporates a zoom box and palm protection. So….

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Medical Chronologies in DEVONthink Pro

Over at MILO, members occasionally ask how/what/why one might use DEVONthink Pro for chronologies. Here’s a picture.

By the way, the screenshot was created and annotated using Skitch, a really awesome and free screen grab utility that works well with Evernote (and is owned by Evernote). Skitch is also available for, and equally awesome on, the iPad.

Review – Oral Argument by TabLit

TabLit software released a new iPad app designed to help attorneys during argument in open court aptly titled “Oral Argument.” TabLit has an intriguing concept, but overall this 1.0 offering lacks execution.

The idea behind Oral Argument is to provide a notepad/outline style presentation of the points you wish to make during oral argument. Each ‘page’ can be very long, formatted in an outline mode, and employ rich text formatting and highlighting. Each page for a particular argument is displayed across the top with a separate tab button. Perhaps the nicest trick is that you can insert a hyperlink style ‘popup.’ So, when arguing and you cite a particular case to the court, you can tap the hyperlink and get a popup with the specific language. In this way, you don’t clutter up your outline, but still have quick access to those special quotes if you want them. The app also provides a sidebar for typing in notes as your oral argument progresses. Finally, the app includes a timer at the top. Courts where I have argued, and which impose a time limit, invariably have something on the podium which tells me how much time is left. So, although novel, the necessity or usefulness of a built in timer is not all that great.

Overall, however, the app shows itself as a 1.0 venture. There is no search feature. Creating outlines requires using an archaic interface reminiscent of  MS Windows’ Notepad application. Adding insult to the tiny icon set of such a text editor, everything must be edited in landscape mode. Changing font size requires a return to the edit mode. Further, editing from your laptop or desktop requires a ‘subscription’ to TabLit’s ‘premium’ service. The app costs $19.99, a subscription based model for getting text into the app will not win over users. Moreover, there is not much to distinguish this app from other note taking apps, including the handwritten variety. In fact, getting an outline into the app is so difficult, it would be easier to create an outline in a word processor, save it as a PDF, and then take notes on that PDF in GoodNotes, Remarks or Notability.

OnLive Desktop

There has been a ton of press about OnLive Desktop and the ability to run Windows on your iPad. There’s a reason it’s free.

While it seems like a great idea on paper, the reality is far from appealing. Not only does the connection frequently fail, OnLive Desktop also stands as a solid reminder just how ugly and unworkable Microsoft Office becomes on a tablet interface (not to mention how unworkable Windows 7 is on a tablet interface).

Compare & ContrastMicrosoft Word OnLive Desktop vs. Pages on iPad

Date Calculator Roundup + Wolfram Lawyer’s Assistant Review

Ahhhh. The interesting tedious task of calculating dates. Delegate to staff and hope they get it right and you don’t blow a statute/deadline? Or, get out a big desk pad calendar and hold your thumb on the starting date counting backwards, then forwards, and forgetting where you started when the phone rings? Here’s a round up of calculators to help make it a bit easier on you or your staff.

On the iPad/iPhone

Court Days Pro ($2.99) is a ‘legal specific’ date calculator that allows you to ‘build’ a set of dates. Dates can be added/subtracted as court days or calendar days and long dependent chains can be built from a single trigger event. If the calculated date falls on a weekend or recognized holiday, the calculation can bump the date forward or backward to the next closest court date. Court Days Pro is handy for creating dates which are usually static and triggered by a single event, such as discovery schedules, time to answer, days until the statute of limitations runs etc. Once calculated, the dates can be exported directly to the built in Calendar app or emailed. You could also check out Court Days (.99¢) made by the same folks, iPhone/iTouch only and fewer features. Both Court Days and Court Days Pro allow adding custom state recognized legal holidays. The reviews for this app on iTunes are somewhat negative. It appears from the negative reviews that people are having difficulty with navigation and input because none of the complaints make much sense if you spend a little time understanding how the app works. Recommend ignoring the iTunes reviews and playing around with the app for a little bit before you give up.

Date Ranger (Free). Date Ranger is really simple on the surface. Two boxes, two dates and you’re off and running. Here’s the neat trick: once you have a date calculated, you can ‘swipe’ that date onto the other box. This makes calculating dependent sequential dates a breeze.

HiCalc HD (Free) offers a variety of handy calculators, including a basic date calculator. It presents the dates in dd/mm/yyyy format which can be a bit confusing. HiCalc also displays the day of the week which will keep you, at least, from calendaring something to occur on the weekend but may result in you calendaring on a legal holiday.

Lastly, DateInterval (free) provides a bare bones, knuckle dragging friendly count days forward from a date or the difference between two dates.

On the Mac

Several free options exist for calculating dates on the Mac. First up is Date Calculator, a somewhat dated (2005?!?!) widget available here. The widget allows addition, subtraction and difference calculations for dates. FreeLawTools offers an online calculator that uses either court or calendar dates for the calculation, and will also exclude legal holidays/weekends from the result by shifting the day forward or backward as you desire. Finally, WolframAlpha. If you don’t already know, WolframAlpha “is an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data.” So, of course, it can calculate dates.

Wolfram Lawyer’s Assistant (Reference App)

Speaking of WolframAlpha, they have just released for the iPad Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant ($4.99). The app offers up a unique set of reference tools for lawyers including, among other things, a Legal Dictionary, a quick reference for Statutes of Limitations for all 50 states, blood alcohol calculator, IP Address Lookup, historical weather, damages/estate planning/real estate calculators and statistical information.

The date calculator can calculate business (i.e. court) or calendar days between two dates or forward from a specified date. But, if you want to count backwards… sorry, despite the fact that this App is provided by the world’s most famous online calculation machine, WolframAlpha, it can’t count backwards. Counting to a huge number of decimal places Pi? Check. Counting backwards on your iPad. Meh, not so much.

Wolfram Lawyer’s Professional Assistant also fails in the Statute of Limitations area. For the Utah Statutes of Limitation periods, it lists a 1 year SOL for “medical malpractice actions based on insertion of a foreign object.” Not. Quite. Right. The Lawyer’s Assistant is also a little rough around the edges in terms of user interface. Finally, the thing throws advertising for other Wolfram apps at you in the bottom corner of the home screen. Considering it is a paid app, advertising (even for your own wares) is a major no-no. Final thoughts: wait for the next revisions or corrections to the current version before purchase unless you really need one of the math calculators.

Looking back at this collection it becomes obvious that the paradigm is shifting toward the iPad/iOS for ‘new’ or ‘innovative’ development. The best date calculator to be found is Court Days Pro, on the iPad. A date calculator widget for Mac OSX hasn’t been updated in six years and Wolfram just cranked out an iPad specific app, but provides nothing on desktop for legal reference. Interesting.


Fresh from the mind of David Sparks (MacSparky), Siri can also calculate dates (and probably add them to your Calendar too).

Try this.

Siri …

“What is 30 days plus December 7”

“How many days are between November 1, 2011 and December 7, 2011”

Thanks David… just when I had finally resolved to wait for the iPhone 5.

Circus Ponies Notebook + Dropbox = Joy

Just noticed that Notebook for iPad has been updated to sync via Dropbox. Previously, the only way to sync was over the USB drag-n-drop through iTunes run around. Once your Dropbox credentials are in Notebook, you can download and sync pre-existing Notebooks from the Dropbox cloud, or you can designate a folder and upload notebooks created on your iPad. Now that Notebook syncs over Dropbox, this will be my go to outliner on the iPad.

Three Neat Tricks in Mac OS X Lion

Because computers are, in the end, a day-to-day tool used to run a law practice, upgrading to the latest and greatest operating system should be done with care. Look at it this way, if you were the milkman whose job it was to deliver milk every day, you would replace the engine in your delivery truck just for the benefit of a quarter mile per gallon without some reasonable degree of certainty that doing so wouldn’t cause the truck to break down the next morning? Even though the Mac platform is generally solid, there are always those little quirks with each new version of the OS. So, after some delay, the jump into Lion was finally made. The new OS works great and seems to have boosted the speed just a little bit. Because Lion has been out for a while the new features have largely been covered already. But here are three features which have not received a terrible amount of press, but definitely make upgrading for a paltry $29 an easy decision.

First: when you now QuickLook a document in Finder, command-tabbing or switching to another application leaves the QuickLook version open on the screen. This is very handy for referencing a document while typing in another application.

Second: a three fingered double tap on top of any word will pull up the dictionary definition of the word, a thesaurus reference for the word, and, a short version of any Wikipedia reference which may exist for the word.

Third: using Preview to sign a PDF document using the built-in camera on your Mac. This last bit is sure to make any lawyer who prefers working paperless squeal with joy. By simply signing a blank white sheet of paper, and then holding that signature up to the camera, you can then insert your signature into the PDF wherever you see fit.

This is a vast improvement over the old static stamp method of inserting a handwritten signature on documents. Additionally, it provides a heightened sense of security since each signature can now be unique and contained handwritten date notation next to the signature. Once the signature is placed in the PDF, flatten that image and make it a permanent part of the PDF, simply select File>Print>PDF>Save as PDF.

iPad Wireless Presentation

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad he called it ‘magical.’ Magical seemed a bit silly and somewhat corny. Over the past year and a half or so, the iPad offered more and more to the point that it has truly become magical. And that, perhaps, was the genius of Jobs… the ability to see the magic of the future, today.

The recent update to iOS 5 combined with an Apple TV (ATV) software update confirms the iPad as a serious piece of technology easily accessible to everyday folks, and even lawyers.

You can now, from a chunk of aluminum and glass smaller in size than a legal pad, wirelessly display across the room virtually anything that can be shown on your iPad. Need to show a street scene? Stream Google Earth, wirelessly, straight to a projector, pinch to zoom, swipe to tilt. Need to show detailed anatomy? Fire up Netter’s Atlas and present beautifully detailed anatomical drawings with pinch to zoom. Want a 3D anatomy? Do that too with Visible Body, a really great anatomy app that lacks the fine detail of Netters, but wows with 3D zooming, pan and tilt on all anatomical structures. Need to mark up a PDF or photograph? Yeah, you can do that too, live, in front of the jury. GoodReader, ReaddleDocs and PDF Expert all stream a beautiful mirrored copy of your markups. Need to show a witness interview or video of the scene? Check. Wirelessly.

Want present without simultaneously mirroring your actions to the display? At least three apps recognize the ATV as a separate display and retain the iPad display for the user to manipulate the projected image. TrialPad smartly and critically shows only the particular exhibit, treating the ATV as a secondary display and leaving the iPad screen available for markup and annotation hidden until ready to display. Apple’s Keynote presentation program also uses the ATV as a ‘secondary’ display, again leaving the iPad to function as a presenter only screen where you can view individual slides, highlight the slide on display with a laser pointer, or read your presenter notes. iAnnotate can simultaneously show an exhibit on the projector via ATV, while allowing you to reference your examination outline on the iPad itself. Really, really useful stuff and all from two little tiny pieces of technology that seem so innocuous: a slab of aluminum and glass and a small black cube.  Magical.

So, here’s the step by step for doing any of this in a courtroom:

1. An iPad running iOS 5

2. An Apple TV

3. Both devices connected to the same wireless network

4. A projector connected to the Apple TV

The Apple TV uses an HDMI out cable, so your projector will need to be capable of accepting HDMI input (many projectors only accept VGA). Once you have your Apple TV up and running, with the latest software installed, you need to make sure that both the ATV and the iPad are running on the same network. This is the only ‘techy’ part of the whole project and there are three options: First, use whatever wireless network you can find in the vicinity and hope that it is stable and fast enough to support you. Not a very good option, IMHO. Second, and cheapest, pick up an Airport Express and use it to set up a local wireless network. An Airport Express will only set you back about $99 if you pay full retail and can often be found on discount at sites like Other World Computing for as cheap as $59. Third, but not least, set up your MacBook as an ‘ad hoc’ wireless network. Then, connect your iPad and ATV to the MacBook’s ad hoc wireless network.

Once this is all set up, from the home screen double tap the home button or four finger swipe upwards.

Then, swipe the active apps tray in the bottom of the screen to the right.

Now, you should see the AirPlay icon. Tap it and select your ATV and turn mirroring on. Wash, rinse, repeat.