Trial Notebook for iPad Review

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Trial Notebook by TabLit is a trial organization app for the iPad. While there are some issues, overall I was pleasantly surprised to find it is a solid app that does a good job. If you are accustomed to working with a paper based trial notebook, you should give Trial Notebook a try. I tested it out on a recent deposition road trip and found that it is certainly worth using.

Trial Notebook starts by having you set up a—surprise—Notebook for each case. That process is helped along by the aptly named “wizard” function, that walks you through the basic questions needed to set up the Notebook.

Trial Notebook Creation 300x225 Trial Notebook for iPad Review

Once in the Notebook for your case, you are presented with 3 default sections: Case Document, Master Checklist, and Case Contact. You can add additional sections, which I will discuss below.

Case Document

This is where you store your relevant case documents: pleadings, discovery, documents, basically anything you will need in trial. You have the option to download files from the web, import pictures from the Photo app or record audio. However, the most likely way you will import material is the way I did: by connecting to a cloud service. Trial Notebook gives you the option of connecting to Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, SugarSync or Box. I used Dropbox and the process was flawless.  I linked to the entire file for my case, so it downloaded everything.  My entire digital file was in Trial Notebook.  In most cases, that is probably a good thing. My only suggestion here is that there doesn’t appear to be a way to download selected portions of a file. Basically, you have to chose one file as your “case document.” The glitch for me came in the form of a large number of radiology files that, while it downloaded them, were a complete waste of space because I could not link to an app to view them.

Trial Notebook Dropbox 300x225 Trial Notebook for iPad Review

Case Contact

The name is self explanatory. This is the tab where you will store all your contact information: opposing counsel, client, witnesses, judge, etc. It links to your iPad’s Contacts application, so there is no need to re-enter information. Very nicely done and usable.

Master Checklist

The Master Checklist Section contains all the checklists and evidence sections you have added to the notebook. Basically it is a summary overview with direct access to the following, if you have created them:

Trial Notebook Master Checklist 300x225 Trial Notebook for iPad Review

Notebook Sections

On creation of a Notebook section, you are given an option to Title the Section, title the Tab and select whether the content will be a Checklist or an Outline. When you go through the process of creating the section, it will appear in the main case list, along with the Case Document, Master Checklist and Case Contact sections. When you tap on the section, the tabs you’ve created show up on the right half of your screen.

Trial notebook sample Section 300x225 Trial Notebook for iPad Review

Checklists

These allow you to create checklists. You create or modify the possible “value” which you can modify.  By default, it is set up to track evidence (with “admitted” or “excluded” options) and motions in limine (with “granted”, “denied”, and “reserved” options). You can add your own checklist options.

Outline

This section appears to be intended to use to create the many types of outlines you would use in a typical trial: witness testimony, opening, closing, voir dire and others. Also included is what I would refer to as the “notes” section of the outline.This is a section off to the right of the screen where you can enter notes separate from the outline itself. I find that this is a really useful feature that would allow you to make notes during trial or deposition. Very useful indeed!

All together, I think TabLit has put together a solid app in Trial Notebook. It gives you what you would expect from an app of that name. It doesn’t have a long learning curve.

Suggestions/Complaints

My suggestions/complaints are actually few in number.

Undo

Especially in the initial stages of working with the app, I found myself wishing for an easily accessible “undo” button. It may be there somewhere, but I didn’t find it. I think this is a must.

Edit Tabs

In a similar vein, I think you need an easy way to easily edit the tab names. Particularly when you are first setting up a notebook, you may not know what you want to call a tab. And trial prep is a dynamic process. Your thought process and focus will change as you refine your case, and you need to be able to make those changes.

Two Way Dropbox Integration

As it stands now, anything you download from Dropbox isn’t linked back. So once it’s there, any changes you make in other applications won’t be saved in Trial Notebook. It appears that TabLit is in the process of adding this feature. An absolute must.

I also question the lack of basic PDF annotation features, however, after giving it some thought, I think adding these in might just make for feature bloat. PDF annotations are notoriously quirky. Annotations you make in one app may not show up when viewed with another app. And since Trial Notebook is not a trial presentation app, I doubt I’d want to use annotations that I couldn’t present.

Bottom Line

Trial Notebook is a good trial organization app. While I’m sure upcoming updates will address minor issues and add features, it is a good app as it stands. It’s pricey at $69.99, but only in the context of iPad applications. We have gotten so accustomed to the 99 cent app, that anything over $9.99 we instantly view as expensive. But in context, think about the long term value. For years (before I went paperless) I swore by Bindertek binders for case files and trial prep. I bought them in bulk because I knew they were well crafted and I could use the over and over again. At about $14 each, they weren’t cheap, but they were worth the money. Trial Notebook is the cost of just a few good binders. Easier to carry too!

Score

Trial Notebook

Reviewed by Todd Hendrickson on .

Summary: Trial Notebook from TabLit is an excellent iPad app to organize trial materials, giving you a portable, iPad version of the venerable trial notebook.

Overall score: 4.5 (out of 5)

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  • http://about.me/christophermckinney CJ McKinney (@CJMcKinney)

    Looks like an interesting app but my issue with all of these ipad litigation apps is that they are so tied down to the pad that I can’t use them with my group. I would absolutely love an app like this if it had a web backend and could be synced to multiple pads so that my co-counsel and I could share the same data set and collaborate together and my assistant could add documents, etc from her desktop.

  • http://tablitapps.com Jeffrey May, CEO, TabLit Applications

    Todd:
    Thank you for the thorough review of our app. In particular, I love seeing the suggestions section; we’re trying to get as many comments as we can so that we can improve the app as we go. We have a ton of updates planned, but we’re always looking for more.

    As a brief update, I am happy to announce that version 1.1 of TabLit: Trial Notebook was submitted to Apple on Thursday and will be available on the App Store soon. This minor update includes a new security feature (i.e. password option), improved contact importing, some minor bug fixes, and new in-app icons (based specifically on user feedback)!

    We are also working on version 1.2, which will me a fairly significant upgrade and will coincide with the release of our premium web service for Trial Notebook. The new version will include:

    Two-Way Sync with Dropbox
    Evidence Document Annotation
    Easier Methods of Adding Documents to Evidence Sections
    Addition of “Entity”-type Contacts and Parties
    Ability to Change Default Font Size
    Easier Navigation of Hyperlink/Cross-Reference Sections
    Sync with Premium Web Service

    Additionally, we have been getting some fantastic feedback from our users (thank you to those of you who submitted suggestions and requests), and we’re working on some great new features down the line. Just a sample of these features include:

    Notebook Sharing and Collaboration (exactly what was suggested in your comments — I’m particularly excited about this one)
    Calendar Integration
    Video Evidence Import
    In-App chat (with the notebook sharing feature turned on)
    Additional Pages in Outlines (creating a third tier of organization)
    User-Created Templates
    and YES — A Presentation Tool! This was not in our original plans, but we do plan to add this based on our user feedback. While the plans for this are not complete, it will be a highly-integrated, feature-rich presentation tool that allows users to display document evidence from their device while viewing the evidence and their notebook outline in a split-screen-type view.

  • http://www.hendricksonlaw.com Todd Hendrickson

    Jeffrey: I’m looking forward to the updates–particularly the two-way Dropbox sync. I ran into that situation yesterday. I was in a motion hearing on a case I’d happened to set up in Trial Notebook. I ended up wanting to reference a couple of documents that were in my file. This particular court house doesn’t have wifi (and my iPad is wifi only) so I couldn’t directly access Dropbox. However, most of what I needed was in Trial Notebook–everything except the document I’d received just a few days ago. So two-way sync is going to be a really good addition.
    Can you give us an idea of what the “premium web service” will provide? And cost?

  • http://tablitapps.com/ Jeffrey May, CEO, TabLit Applications

    Absolutely!

    When the Premium Web Service (PWS) initially launches in early April, there will be two types of user accounts: (1) free accounts; and (2) paid accounts.

    Free accounts will essentially be a way for users to back up their data and view it from the web. Anything you create on your iPad will by linked to your TabLit Apps account. It will sync as you make changes, and you’ll be able to login to your account online to view all of your data. And if anything happens to your iPad, you’ll be able to load up the app on another device and download everything from the online backup.

    Paid accounts will give you all the benefits of the free accounts, but users will also have the ability to create and edit new notebooks. The benefit here is pretty clear — you can use your PC to do all of your input and then access it from your device. This means you can easily copy and paste from other documents on your computer, and you can use your keyboard and mouse for input. For those of us who use a bluetooth keyboard, data input on the iPad isn’t terrible, but it’s still a lot easier from a PC in most cases. For power users, this is a great way to do the heavy lifting from a PC and make minor edits on-the-go from their iPads.

    After the initial launch of the PWS, we’re going to immediately begin working on the first update to the PWS. This is where we think our app (and the service) will really turn into a game changer for trial attorneys. With this update, we’ll add the ability to “share” a notebook with a colleague. Think of it like sharing a folder in Dropbox. You will be able to select another (paid) Trial Notebook user (or multiple users), and you’ll be able to share a single notebook with them. The users sharing the notebook will be able to make edits and access the notebook from multiple devices. While users will be able to share notebooks without actually going online, a PWS account will be necessary as it’s the backbone for the sharing process. The key here is that users will be able to make updates in real time, so in practice, an attorney could be in trial conducting an exam when his co-counsel thinks of a question he wants to add. Co-counsel could then add the question to the notebook while sitting at counsel table, and it would be added to the exam outline on the examining-attorney’s device.

    The PWS will also be the backbone for some other future features, like in-app chat and any potential integration with online case-management services.

    We haven’t finalized pricing for the PWS yet because it is partially based on what features are available at the time of launch and how long we think it will be before the sharing feature is accessible — hopefully it won’t be long. I can tell you, though, that the service will be tiered. We will have the free account for users who just want to backup and view their data. We will have one tier for users who want to backup, view, edit, and create data. And we will have one tier for users who want “shared” access. Additionally, we plan to have a user-type of account for “collaborators,” who will have online access to shared notebooks but will not have access from an iPad. These accounts are designed for paralegals and law clerks. And with all of our accounts, we plan to build in a model where a law firm (from small to large) can purchase accounts in packages to save on the monthly fees. These accounts will also be manageable from a law-firm dashboard that will allow administrators to add, remove, and reassign accounts.

  • Kim Kelly

    Based on this review, I dropped $70 on the app. What I discovered is that the app is far from deserving 4 1/2 stars.

    The app CRASHES repeatedly and does so within minutes of use.

    You wrote that the contact import was “nicely done and usable,” I have over 2,000 contacts on my iPad 3, and the app hung there for about 3 minutes before it listed contacts. When it did, NONE OF THEM ARE IN ANY SORT OF ORDER ALPHABETICAL OR OTHERWISE. Sorry, there is nothing “nice” or “usable” about that!

    Even menus have misspellings such as “Reoder” instead of “Reorder” Sections.

    If you are uploading unencrypted stuff to Dropbox for this app or any other, you are breaching confidentiality and your ethics because under their terms of service you give Dropbox and “trusted” third parties permission to view your data.

    There is no way to specify the exhibit number or whether the exhibit was plaintiff’s, defendant’s, or a court exhibit. I could go on, but the bottom line is that the app is far from good.

    In the future, please do your readers a favor. Next time you review an app (especially one costing as much as this one), please spend time using the app for awhile before you share your thoughts with the rest of us.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      With respect to Dropbox, you are just plain wrong.

  • Kim Kelly

    Sam, if I agreed with you, then we’d both be “wrong.”

    Dropbox’s TOS provides: “We may use certain trusted third party companies and individuals to help us provide, analyze, and improve the Service (including but not limited to data storage, maintenance services, database management, web analytics, payment processing, and improvement of the Service’s features).” Giving nameless 3rd party companies and individuals access to attorney-client privileged data is an ethical no-no. Something tells me that an informed client would have a problem with this too. That’s why some lawyers use services such as Spideroak which has a “zero-knowledge” data policy so that “your data is 100% private and only readable to you.” And no, I do not have stock in Spideroak or a cousin that works there.

    If the TOS wasn’t enough, perhaps you are forgetting Dropbox’s security breaches. In 2012, some user usernames and passwords were stolen “from other websites,” and their accounts accessed. Also, a Dropbox employee’s account was broken into and user email addresses were stolen from a document accessed from that account. There was the 2012 security hole in Dropbox’s iOS app which allowed anyone with physical access to your phone to copy your login credentials because Dropbox’s app stored user login information in unencrypted text files! Don’t forget 2011 when all of its users’ files were publicly accessible for nearly four hours due to a bug in the company’s authentication mechanism.

    Before concluding Dropbox is A-OK, maybe you can ask your state’s ethics advisory board can give help you out. After all, whether you think I am “wrong,” its their view that matters most.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

      I’ve written up my thoughts on this before, but the bottom line is that Dropbox’s terms — including its third-party provisions — are pretty benign. You’re just spreading misinformed FUD.

  • http://www.hendricksonlaw.com Todd Hendrickson

    Kim: Thanks for your thoughts. I’m with Sam on the Dropbox issue, so I don’t have anything to add on that topic.

    My comment about the usability of the contact section was based primarily on function after input. I definitely see your point on the ordering f the imported contacts. I have experienced this before in other apps so I assumed it was soared to how my contacts are set up. Apparently not, Perhaps Jeffrey May fromTabLit can weigh in on this issue. Jeffrey?

    As for it taking 3 minutes to import 2000+ contacts, I simply don’t think that is unusual. I think it would take my MacBook Pro at least a minute or two to do the same function. I think we sometimes forget that the iPad is NOT a full edged computer.

    Finally, price. As I addressed in the review, I think we are so ingrained to think of apps as being $9.99 or $4.99, that we fail o compare it to way we are replacing. Thus my comparison to Bindertek. Another example: I prosecute medical malpractice cases. I use a number of (relatively)expensive anatomy and other medical related apps. Definitely not 99 cents! But given that I purchase the app once and use it over and over, for both research, mediation and trial, these are real bargains. In the “old days” it wasn’t unusual to spend $40-$75 for a foam board blow up exhibit and to use 10 or more of these in trial. So a single purchase I’d $49.99 is a flat out bargain. It’s about being frugal, not cheap.

  • http://tablitapps.com/ Jeffrey May

    Kim (and Todd):
    My apologies for not responding sooner to your concerns; we’ve been working hard to finish up our web service, which is taking a bit longer than expected.

    In any event, with regard to the contact sorting, we found that the irregular sorting only effected some users, but the issue was fixed with the release of version 1.1, and all contacts should be sorted alphabetically by last name.

    We also found that our release of version 1.1 contained some crash bugs, particularly for users with order devices or associated with large PDF files. We submitted a fix to Apple, which took about a week for them to review and release. The issue, however, was resolved as of April 14, 2013. Additionally, as an apology to our customers, we offered any effected users a free one-year free trial of our Premium Web Service (the trial period will start when the service is released). If you (or any other users) were effected by the crash bugs, please contact me directly, and I’ll get you on our free-trial list.

    Also, Kim, our customer service (usually through me) is happy to answer any questions that you have, and we try to respond as quickly within a few hours if possible. We’d be happy to walk you through anything and answer any questions that you may have with regard to usability. There may be some things that you’re missing. Additionally, if you feel that some functionality can be improved or that some features need to be added, please contact me. I’m always looking for customer feedback to help us improve the product. All updates for Trial Notebook will always be free, so if you request a feature, you may see it show up in a future version.