Friday, February 14, 2014

Electronic court books, and running trials electronically

Happy new year to my readers! Apologies for being off-air since December 2013 - I returned from a month-long holiday in late January and I was straight into paperwork and trial work. I just finished my trial, and I found a moment to rest and write this post.

The trial was interesting because it is the first trial I have run without a hardcopy court book or hardcopy transcript. Instead I used the electronic versions on my iPad. I found using an electronic court book and transcript on my iPad to be a lot more efficient than having the hardcopy version. Rather than jumping between different folders and having to wade through tabs and pages in each, I was flicking through my electronic directory on my iPad.

I have described my methodology from start to finish below. Note that statements in [square brackets] denote a note for the purposes of this post. I suppose this post is the next phase of using electronic documents once the 'electronic brief' is delivered - click here for my guide on how to compile electronic briefs.

Electronic court book structure

A week before the trial I created a folder on my computer called '[Matter name] court book'. Then I created a series subfolders with the following names:
  • [Matter name] court book [folder]
    • 1 indexes [subfolder]
    • 2 tabbed documents in court book [subfolder]
    • 3 aides [subfolder]
    • 4 summaries [subfolder]
    • 5 notes [subfolder]
    • 6 transcript [subfolder]
    • 7 annotated transcript [subfolder]
    • 8 loose documents [subfolder]
I numbered each subfolder so that they could be ordered as I wanted them (otherwise they would be ordered alphabetically, in an order that may not have been intuitive to me).

Electronic court book documents

As the court book index was developed by me, my instructor and my opponent, I ensured that each document was in electronic PDF format, either by my instructor sending it to me in PDF, or me scanning it from my hardcopy brief. I copied each file into subfolder 2. The filename of each document started with the tab number in the court book index, and following that was a description of the document summarised from the court book index, including the date. As such, subfolder 2, when opened, was the court book index with each document ordered by its particular number in the court book index (since computers sort by name and number).

The following is an example of the structure:
  • [Matter name] court book [folder]
    • 1 indexes [subfolder]
    • 2 tabbed documents in court book [subfolder]
      • 1 statement of claim of the plaintiff dated [###]
      • 2 defence of the defendant dated [###]
      • 3 amended statement of claim of the plaintiff dated [###]
      • ...
      • 17 contract of sale dated [###]
      • 18 amended plans dated [###]
      • ...
      • 50 expert report of Webster dated [###]
      • 51 joint expert report dated [###]
      • ...
    • 3 aides [subfolder]
    • ...
Text recognition, annotation and bookmarking

Once each document was loaded into subfolder 2, I made them text searchable by batch OCR'ing them through Adobe Acrobat. This makes life easier in preparing questions and submissions, because it enables me to find the relevant passage I want from each document, I can highlight and annotate that passage, and I can also copy and paste the relevant passage into my submission.

I then revisited my preparation of the matter, and highlighted and bookmarked the relevant portion of each document using Abode Acrobat. I used bookmark codes similar to those which I referred to in my article on electronic briefs, here.

I then obtained all of the court book indexes, scanned them and added them into subfolder 1. I made these text searchable as well.

As aides were handed up to the Judge, at the end of that day I scanned them and added them into subfolder 3. I did the same for summaries (into subfolder 4), my instructor's notes (into subfolder 5) and loose documents that were produced by my opponent or my instructor (into subfolder 8).

Transcript annotation and bookmarking

After each day, I received the transcript from the transcription service in PDF and Word (DOC/DOCX) format. At the end of the day, or in the morning of the next day (depending on tiredness levels) I read the PDF version of the transcript on Adobe Acrobat, and each time I read something relevant I highlighted that part of the transcript, and bookmarked it. The great thing about highlighting transcript electronically is that the highlight also highlights the line numbers on the left hand side of the page, making it easy to refer to while on your feet, and in footnotes in written submissions.

Each electronic bookmark I created in the transcript recorded the witness name and whether that witness was giving evidence-in-chief (denoted 'X'), being cross-examined (denoted 'XX') or being re-examined (denoted 'ReX'). After this detail, I summarised in the bookmark what evidence was given. For example, the bookmarks looked something like the following [note - I have not summarised the actual evidence nor named witnesses - the information is fictional]:

  • X Smith - signed the contract on 1 Apr 2009
  • ...
  • X Smith - told the agent that she wanted an apartment with ocean views
  • ...
  • XX Teller - heard conversation with agent but didn't hear ref to ocean views
  • ...
  • XX Barnes - saw plaintiff talking to planner on 25 March 2009, didn't heard what saying
  • ...
  • ReX Barnes - saw plaintiff write notes of conversation
Each file of the transcript (representing 1 day of evidence) had around 20 to 40 bookmarks, each with a line describing the evidence given.

Efficiency in preparing submissions

As I was running the trial, I was working on my submissions. After I annotated the transcript each day, I worked on the submissions by typing in extracts of the transcript references where appropriate (that is, under each cause of action or issue set out in the written submissions). I found it easy doing this because I had already highlighted and bookmarked all of the relevant portions of the transcript. Also, footnoting the transcript was a simple task - each time I wanted to footnote something in the transcript, I found the bookmark in the transcript, clicked on it, and it took me to the relevant page, and the highlights showed the lines where the relevant evidence appeared.

A few times while writing the submissions I remembered a particular part of the evidence that I had not highlighted or bookmarked, and wanted to find in the transcript. I used Foxtrot Pro, particularly the neighbouring word search function, to find the relevant passage. Foxtrot Pro is an advanced indexing program for Mac - the equivalent of ISIS or DTSearch for PC.

Electronic court book and transcript on iPad, including examining witnesses and submissions

As I noted above, I had the court book folder on my iPad. I had it loaded onto the program, GoodReader, as a synced folder. Click here for my article on electronic briefs describing this syncing process with GoodReader  Because the folder was synced with my computer (via Dropbox), each time I updated the court book on my computer (whether by annotating transcript, adding summaries, bookmarks to court book documents, etc) I pressed the 'Sync' button on GoodReader and it updated the folder on my iPad.

I found examining witnesses a very simple task as for each witness I had a 1-page paper running sheet which had on it the relevant court book references and a summary of the questions to be asked. Each time I needed to visit a particular document in the running sheet, I clicked on the document in subfolder 2 on GoodReader.  If I needed to visit a particular part of that document (for instance, I had a 200 or so page contract which I had bookmarked and highlighted in parts) I clicked on the bookmark for that part and I was taken there straight away. I couldn't have my running sheet on my iPad, as I would be attempting to juggle a running sheet and court book documents on the one device. Perhaps another iPad for running sheets, submissions and notes...

I also found the ability to zoom on the iPad's screen to be very useful while on my feet. I was dealing with a contract with small terms, a document with disclaimers, and engineering drawings which were originally in A0 size. Whenever something was too small for the screen, I zoomed in on it.

As far as oral submissions went, referring to the transcript was a breeze since the annotated transcript was loaded onto my iPad and was entirely bookmarked and highlighted. Every time I needed to refer to a particular part of the evidence, I found the file for the relevant day (sorted in subfolder 6), found the bookmark summarising the evidence, and it pulled up the highlighted part of the transcript that I wanted.


I had each authority which I relied on in PDF format, with the full name and citation as the filename. I created another folder, called '[matter name] folder of authorities' and created subfolders referring to each legal issue. For example:
  • [matter name] folder of authorities [folder]
    • apportionment [subfolder]
    • estate agents act [subfolder]
    • misleading or deceptive conduct [subfolder]
    • disclaimers [subfolder]
    • reliance [subfolder]
    • contract [subfolder]
    • damages [subfolder]
I then placed each authority into the particular folder representing the particular cause of action or issue the authority concerned. When annotating the authorities, I highlighted the relevant part of each authority and created a bookmark describing what that part was about. I then synced this folder onto GoodReader on my iPad. As such, referring to the relevant parts of the authorities during submissions was also simple.

As it turned out, the Judge wanted hardcopy versions of the authorities. So, I put these on a USB stick and gave them to my instructor to print and send to the court - with instructions to print without annotations, of course!

Throughout the trial the only pieces of paper I had in front of me which I referred to regularly were the witness running sheet and the exhibit list. Otherwise, everything I needed was in my iPad. 

I thought it best to clarify at the end of this article that I have no financial interest in the products I refer to in this post. They are just the products that have worked best for me and my practice.

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