Helping Trial Lawyers Navigate the Appellate System

How I’m Using My iPad Pro for Appellate Arguments

I just completed my second Fifth Circuit argument using my big iPad Pro in a more prominent role than ever before. Inspired by Jeff Richardson’s post about how he used an iPad to prepare for and present an appellate argument, I thought I’d share how I’ve integrated the device into my preparation and presentation strategy.


Reviewing and marking up the appellate briefs and record is an essential component of argument preparation. For me, that once involved having hard work copies made from master versions in a physical file that sat on a shelf or in a cabinet somewhere in my office. We’re talking about an awful lot of paper to keep up with and store. Now that Texas appellate courts have joined the Fifth Circuit as all-electronic, it’s easier than ever for me to forego paper and maintain everything in digital form.
I use PDF Expert and Dropbox to sync files between my MacBook Pro and my iPad. Instead of paper work copies, I create an “OA” folder in Dropbox using this structure…
 Screenshot 2016-11-04 06.58.25


…which, in PDF Expert, looks like this:
Screenshot 2016-11-04 07.05.23
I use a combination of PDF Expert on my iPad and Adobe Acrobat on my MacBook (connected to two 27″ Thunderbolt monitors when I’m in the office) to display the briefs, record, and important cases I’ve downloaded from Westlaw. With PDF Expert’s handy two-way sync feature, annotations I make on my iPad (using the Apple Pencil) will show up on my MacBook and vice-versa. This gives me the ultimate flexibility to prepare wherever I am using the device most convenient for me at the time and capture my analysis in one place.

Mind Maps

I recently started using a mind-mapping app called iThoughts. Mind-mapping is a great tool for organizing complex concepts and visualizing how they fit together. Much like PDF Expert, iThoughts will two-way sync between the iPad and MacBook through Dropbox, the only caveat being that you have to purchase both the iOS and Mac versions of the app to access a file on both devices. When you come to appreciate the power of mind-mapping, though, the investment is well worth it.
To give you a better idea what I’m talking about, here’s a simplified version of the map I made when gearing up for this week’s argument (with all my mental impressions removed, of course):
Screenshot 2016-11-03 20.14.49

Argument Outline

So far, I’ve stuck to my old habit of preparing an argument outline in Microsoft Word. As shown above, I save the document in the OA folder and convert the final version to PDF. This still seems a bit archaic; I can envision using iThoughts to outline my arguments instead. I think that would work very well when viewed on the big monitors in the office, but with my aging eyes, it could be somewhat challenging when relying on the relatively small iPad Pro screen.

At the Lectern

Unlike Jeff, I have fully transitioned to using the iPad at the lectern in place of all paper except perhaps a legal pad and a few key documents. My former practice was to double-side print my outline and put it in a small notebook, which allowed me to see two pages at a time while speaking and was often helpful if I needed to jar my memory. My new approach allows me to make changes until the very last minute, pull up the final outline in PDF Expert, manipulate the image size, and move between pages using finger gestures. These advantages help offset the fact that, practically speaking, the most I can view on the iPad is one page at a time.
Despite some initial trepidation, the new approach has worked well for me so far. The only complication I’ve experienced is that the Fifth Circuit does not allow use of electronic devices in the gallery. That makes reviewing my outline when I’m second or third in line for argument a bit more challenging. However, I’ve acquainted myself with the notification system in the attorney lounges, which keeps me informed about when I need to enter the courtroom for my case and thus allows me to go over the outline in “game conditions” while I’m waiting to be called.
I waited a long time for Apple to release the big iPad Pro. When I bought one, I knew it would become an integral part of my practice. I look forward to refining my argument-preparation process and discovering new ways to use this wonderful technological tool.
D. Todd Smith
About the Author

D. Todd Smith is an Austin-based civil appellate specialist who works with trial teams from the earliest stages of litigation. In trial courts, he takes the lead on strategic analysis and briefing, jury charges, and potentially dispositive motions, all with a focus on preserving error and positioning cases for appellate review.

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