What I Bring to Court

Now that we live in the future, a lot of lawyers have adopted the mobility and ease of access technology brings. Some haven’t, and that’s OK too. Ironically, for better or worse, I’ve found that my ‘paperless office’ means I need to remember to do a few things before I leave my home or office to go to a normal day in court.

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The Tech

In short, I bring my iPad and cell phone to all my hearings, and that’s about it (for technology). The iPad is for accessing my files and the phone is for calling my client/witnesses when they’re late and recording the hearing. But making sure things are organized is a little more involved than just throwing the devices in my briefcase and walking out the door.

I practice criminal law. That means each client folder I create has, at a minimum, a criminal complaint and affidavit of probable cause in it. These items are essential at the initial hearing. To make sure I have them, I sync my iPad with the pertinent client folder using Goodreader. That way everything is stored locally on my iPad and I don’t need Wi-fi to get to my files.

Assuming I have enough advance notice, I also like to create a short document with notes for the hearing. This can include witness’ names and phone numbers, brief case citations, points to make in argument, and so forth. If possible, I create a checklist for things I or the prosecution need to prove, so I can check the elements off when they are presented. This one pager isn’t exhaustive. It doesn’t include all of my outlines for direct and cross examinations. I think of it as more of a quick sheet for the case. Like everything else in the client’s folder, this file gets synchronized so I have access to it offline. But before I leave for court I take a glance at the file to make sure there isn’t anything glaring missing.

The Non-Tech

When it comes to writing a brief or a letter, I write better using a keyboard. But in a hearing where I need to jot notes down fast, I am still a pen and paper guy. Maybe it’s because I haven’t gotten the right stylus, but writing on the iPad just doesn’t do it for me. So I bring a legal pad and (hopefully) a pen to every court appearance. I also never purposefully leave for court without my business cards, a mileage tracking journal, and a water bottle.

The Risk

Some judges are hardcore luddites. They see a glowing screen and make you turn it off. Despite this risk, many attorneys rely entirely on paperless files.

And it is a risk. It’s a risk of looking silly in front of a client when the judge asks you for a copy of something and you don’t have it. Or you don’t have your notes because you can’t access your tablet/laptop. But we keep doing it. Why? For me, it’s simply a balancing act. I don’t like keeping track of or organizing paper files. It stresses me out and frustrates me. So I balance what I believe is a small risk of looking foolish with the frustration and annoyance of a traditional paper setup.


  1. Avatar Tim says:

    This is what I don’t like about being paperless. None of the courtrooms where I practice are set up for the presentation of digital exhibits, so everything has to be printed off, and at least five copies made (one for me, opposing counsel, the judge, the clerk, and the witness). I suppose it’s better than having all that paper sitting around all the time, but it makes me wonder sometimes why I bother scanning.

  2. Avatar Sam Glover says:

    I’ve been told once or twice to shut off my laptop. I politely inform the judge that my laptop has my client file. It’s never been a problem.

    Did you say you use your iPad to record the hearing? As in audio?

    • Avatar Tim says:

      Not sure about the court rules where Josh practices, but here in Mississippi, it’s against the rules to record any proceeding without the court’s permission.

      I’ve always thought that violates the whole concept of “open courts,” but what do I know.

  3. Avatar Adam Lilly says:

    I bring my phone, laptop, and a 1/2 inch trial binder. The laptop has the full client file (which is fine by the courts I practice in); the trial binder has an outline, bullet points for direct and cross, copies of any evidence rules I anticipate coming up, any cases I expect to cite, and (importantly) any cases I think the other side may cite.
    I feel the need to bring some paper because when opposing counsel says that a case says X, and I say it says Y, there’s a huge impact in pulling it out and pointing to an exact spot on the page.

  4. Avatar Karen Lundquist says:

    In one county here in Minnesota, everyone has to leave their cell phone with the deputy before going into the courtroom. My calendar is there so if we need to schedule another hearing, it gets tricky as I have to rely on my memory on whether I am free. That argument is of no avail with the deputy as they still insist on confiscating it. Seems silly to me as it is just as easy to turn the cell to silent and let everyone keep it, especially as more and more people keep just an electronic calendar.

  5. Avatar shg says:

    An issue arose during what should have been a fairly routine scheduling hearing in federal court recently, in a case that involved thousands of documents, recordings and videos. There were so many, in fact, that the governmenet demanded that defense counsel provide a 500 gig external hard drive for Rule 16 discovery, and they filled it up.

    The issue that arose caused the judge to say, “well, we’re all here, so let’s have a hearing. Government, call your first witness.” And they did. The AUSA had a cart with hiim that was overflowing with hard copy files, and he pulled some papers from it to introduce through his witness.

    I had only a small file with me. I had a cellphone, the kind that flips open and can be used to dial telephone numbers, but it also had a camera. It was securely locked in the marshal’s desk by the front door to the courthouse because they have rules about cameras and recording devices, plus they hate it when someone forgets to turn their phone off and it rings in the courtroom.

    Fortunately, I had a piece of paper in my file that refuted the government’s exhibit. It had an original signature, a stamp and seal, thus making it admissible under the federal rules of evidence.

    My client was most appreciative of my having the document in hand, in evidentiary form for the hearing. There may come a day when a judge is sufficiently tech savvy as to allow a lawyer to hand up his iPad, though I’m not clear how it would be marked and preserved as evidence, or how he could tell an admissible piece of evidence from a photoshopped fake. But I doubt I will be around long enough to find out how that problem is resolved.

    Oh. And I had a pen with me too.

    • Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

      This would have been impossible if you also had copies of your documents scanned into your iPad or laptop?

      I brings hard copies of important documents, too. By which I mean paper.

      • Avatar shg says:

        I’m afraid that FRE 902 makes no accommodation for digital copies. Without the seal, documents are not self-athenticating and wouldn’t be admissible. Darn rules.

        It’s good to know that you bring hard copies of important documents, too. It’s good to know that you mean paper. But no pen?

        • Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

          Are you kidding? I love pens. Especially fountain pens.

          • I have an image in mind of a court reporter holding an iPad in one hand and an exhibit sticker number in the other, her brow furrowing in frustration. I’d love to hear a story of somebody trying to admit a document appearing only on a screen.

            • Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

              I thought we were talking about case law research, or else documents already in the record. I forgot that criminal defense lawyers aren’t working with an established record of affidavits and exhibits. I have never been permitted to introduce a document at a hearing except for the rare occasion when a document didn’t make it through the court’s in-house mail system in time for the hearing (which is why I always bring hard copies of documents filed close to the hearing date in a state court matter).

            • Avatar Dan M. says:

              The only time I’ve seen this done was when a presenting attorney presented a copy of an exhibit (an email string) on an ipad to a witness. The presenting attorney had to first explain the difficulty (and reason for not having a hard copy present) to the Court, show the opposing counsel what he intended on offering (who did not object), and then present the witness with the ipad who then authenticated the email displayed. The attorney then informed the court that he would provide a copy of the document post-hearing and allow the opposing counsel to confirm that it was the same exhibit depicted on the ipad during the hearing. I think this was a rare circumstance, and I’m not sure the Court was overly enthused about having documents entered this way. In the end, I don’t know whether he ever actually got the document in or not.

    • Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

      In federal court, you could just e-file from your laptop in the courtroom and/or call up your document on the exhibit monitors.

      • Avatar Dan M. says:

        I like the idea of using the exhibit monitors. My only concern would be the time it would eat up in plugging in to that monitor. I can only imagine the judge’s face as I mess around with the screen resolutions so its displayed properly. The only time I’ve used a monitor was when I knew I wanted to use it in advance, and since I knew I needed it in advance, I brought hard copies for everyone to look at. This is just one of those areas where I think there is too much of a gap in technology between the rules of procedure, what the court’s are capable of handling, and what we would love to do as attorneys to make our lives easier.

        This would be a good business idea for someone with some tech skills to develop a program that could display it on a monitor and then, with one click, stamp it with an exhibit letter or number and send it to the court reporter once its been admitted. Even then though, I might be reluctant – as much as I appreciate paperless tech, whenever I am reading something of significance, I prefer paper. Sorry, trees.

        • Sam Glover Sam Glover says:

          The courts all do tech orientations. In my jurisdiction, at least it is required before trial (which is required to be mostly paperless). Plugging into the monitors, though, is as simple as connecting your laptop to a VGA cable and letting the clerk know.

  6. Avatar Guest says:

    For criminal law, all you need is paper file folder. On the inside flap, write the client’s name, address, email and phone number. Write down the total fee, how much he owes on each court date and how much you collected on each court date. Keeping track of money owed and collected is the most important reason for the file. On the outside, write down future court dates. You keep police reports and any other papers inside.

    It’s a good idea to back this up on your hard drive and cloud just in case you lose the paper file.

    • Avatar shg says:

      Not to issue with your practice, but not all criminal defense lawyers charge by appearance, or collect for each court date. Some prefer not to carry any receivables at all.

    • Avatar Sierra says:

      I for one absolutely HATE there being writing on the outside of my files. To me, it just looks so sloppy, regardless of how neat your writing is. A typed label is on the front, a label is on the file tab, and that is it.

      And, I can’t wait to have everything in an electronic searchable copy on my mac. I live in a small town and serve local Reserves- the ability to search other client files to determine behavior of witnesses on other occasions, or to see where witnesses or complainants have been charged in relation to other clients is huge.

  7. Avatar Dan M. says:

    One of the partners I frequently work with routinely brings the whole darn file, no matter how big it is, to every hearing. What I don’t like about this approach, besides the fact that I am usually the one hauling everything in, is like, Josh, all the clutter just stresses me out. I’m not advocating going paperless into court, but the act of “slimming” the file down is not just a therapeutic exercise for me (particularly in a complicated case), but also helps me focus on the key issues, what questions I want to ask the witnesses, and what exhibits I plan to offer. Unless it is a very complicated case, I try to limit myself to a legal pad, two pens, my iphone (for calendaring), and two expandable file folders (which are further broken down into separate folders) – all of which is just enough to fit into my messenger bag. I have not tried bringing in a computer or ipad, but I know others that do and they do not seem to have a problem with the Courts here in Indiana, although I believe they also bring in paper copies of relevant documents.

  8. Avatar Ted Brooks says:

    Excellent topic and a lively discussion. There are actually options for handling most of the issues discussed here, including applying electronic exhibit stickers. Most trial presentation professionals deal with technology in court on a daily basis. Another related article just posted yesterday shares a few examples:
    Why You Should NOT Use Technology in Your Trial

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