Being Paperless in Court

There are a few scenarios that keep litigators awake at night. One popular nightmare is the last-minute case on point. Another is being caught unprepared to hand over a critical document in court. The latter is especially terrifying to lawyers who are paperless—or looking for reasons not to go paperless.

I recently (okay, last November) tweeted that I prefer to bring an iPad to court instead of a laptop—or a luggage cart full of client files—and Scott Greenfield took issue:

I suggested that Sam might consider bringing actual client files with him to court, just in case a judge asked for a document, or maybe if his adversary raised an argument that he could destroy with a document in his possession, pulled with a flourish from his file and handed up with verve.

99% of the time, this is what the judge would say if I tried to hand over a document during a motion hearing: “Counsel, since you didn’t submit that document with your motion papers, I am not going to consider it now.” The only exception I can think of would be if I had some brand-new controlling authority to bring to the court’s attention. Not likely, but in that case, I would just print it out and bring along paper copies. Being paperless doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to print anything, after all.

In five years of being paperless and litigating civil cases full-time, I never needed to hand anything to the judge except during trial, when I had everything on paper, anyway. If I had needed to do this, I suppose I could have just set my iPad on the overhead projector and emailed a copy to the judge. Or I could have asked the clerk if I could email a copy of the document to print out. Neither would be as simple as handing over a piece of paper, obviously, but I would rather just be prepared in the first place—with paper, if necessary.

During scheduling and settlement conferences, I have occasionally shown documents to the judge on my laptop or iPad, or just emailed copies to the judge to review in chambers. This has worked just fine.

However, I admit that I don’t know a thing about criminal defense or family law or probate or lots of other areas of practice that involve courtrooms and judges. I have been a civil litigator with a very narrow practice. It is quite possible that, in other practice areas, lawyers regularly need to pull documents out of their files and hand them to the judge (or to the clerk or bailiff, who hands them to the judge), and it would be impossible or impractical to use an overhead projector plus email.

If that applies to you, I suggest one of two things: If you know you are going to need to hand a document to a judge during a hearing, bring along paper copies. If you are worried that you may need to hand over a document that you won’t know about in advance, keep paper copies of your file and bring them with you.

If you are paperless, have you ever needed to share documents while in court? How did you do it?


  1. Avatar Josh C. says:

    I work for a trial court judge and lawyers are constantly handing papers up to the bench. This is usually because a paper was filed with our clerk’s office but isn’t in the official file yet, so the judge doesn’t have a copy. This is definitely something I’m concerned about when it comes to going paperless in a criminal defense setting.

  2. Avatar Dave S says:

    It would be liberating use an iPad in Court. In PA, in the civil cases, at least when I’m there, there’s often handing up documents to the judge for many different reasons (e.g., as per Josh it isn’t in the judge’s file yet, or the judge simply doesn’t want to look for it, etc). I’d be too chicken without a paper file backup, but still could use the iPad.
    This would be where owning an iPad would crush a laptop. I’ve gotta get one.

  3. Avatar Joe says:

    I have been reading reviews onseveral iPad apps to use at trial which I think are helpful in any situation. The first that comes to mind is Trialpad. I think that handing a judge a preloaded iPad with all of your exhibits and showing her/him how to use it beforehand would put one in their good graces. Jurors would be more engaged too. One negative may be looking too much like a fancy pants lawyer. Gerry Spence kept things simple and had quite the enviable career.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      I never considered handing the judge an iPad, but I would be very nervous about doing so. The last thing you want is technology adding another layer of possible failure to the trial.

      While TrialPad and similar software are very nicely done, I have zero interest is tying my trial materials to an iPad. I’m hopeful TrialPad will eventually sync to a more full-featured desktop version so lawyers can do their preparation on a better platform.

      • Avatar Joe says:

        Just to clarify, I wouldn’t only hand the judge an iPad. Would also include binders and make the offer. Being in SF I think most judges here are tech savvy.

        There is also Trial Touch which I hear is much simpler and really meant to store trial exhibits. Eventually it would be nice to have a way to be able to remotely control an iPad so that you know exactly what the judge or witness is looking at.

        And i agree re syncing to full featured desktop version.

        Sent from my iPad ;)

        • Avatar Mario says:

          We are working with a developer so we can turn one ipad into a slave ipad. it can be done cuz you can use and ipad as the monitor and your iphone as controller while playing Fifa, also one can use ipad as the board for scrabble and the iphones for the letter holder. so this can be done and i wouldn’t be surprised if it will soon. i like the new airplay option added to mac so we can wireless stream to a tv from our laptops via apple tv.

  4. Avatar Roger says:

    Undoubtedly, the technology is close to allowing for a “paperless” office, but there are still significant obstacles to overcome. Which applications will set the standard? How will courts train their employees to use the technology?

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