Helping Trial Lawyers Navigate the Appellate System

The Appellate Road Warrior: Apps for Practicing From the Road

[vc_row type=”in_container” full_screen_row_position=”middle” column_margin=”default” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” overlay_strength=”0.3″ shape_divider_position=”bottom” bg_image_animation=”none”][vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ column_link_target=”_self” column_shadow=”none” column_border_radius=”none” width=”1/1″ tablet_width_inherit=”default” tablet_text_alignment=”default” phone_text_alignment=”default” overlay_strength=”0.3″ column_border_width=”none” column_border_style=”solid” bg_image_animation=”none”][vc_column_text]This is the fourth installment in my series on practicing appellate law from the road.

This post addresses methods for continuing your daily work without access to your office or laptop computer. Highlighted below are various apps that will help keep things moving.

Microsoft Office

As mentioned earlier in the series, an Office365 annual subscription gets you free access to apps from Microsoft that match up with the same programs on your computer, specifically Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. While not as fully featured as their computer-based counterparts, they provide all of the functionality most lawyers need to work effectively. Word now has a robust Track Changes mode that allows you to see and make redline edits. You can create, review, and edit documents on your phone or tablet. Excel allows you to create and edit spreadsheets, use formulas, and filter and sort. You can create and edit presentations with PowerPoint. And OneNote (discussed below) is an effective notetaking app.

PDF Expert/PDF Pen

A number of mobile apps provide basic PDF functionality. Look for a mobile version of your desktop PDF program and go from there. At a minimum, you want the ability to review, highlight, edit and (hopefully) sign PDF documents on your phone or tablet. Both PDF Expert and PDFpen provide that functionality at an affordable cost.

PDF Expert’s developers have vastly improved the app over the past few years. It is very good for annotating PDFs by either typing into text boxes or using the Apple Pencil with a compatible iPad. This is an extremely useful feature for the appellate road warrior in or out of the office.

About the only feature missing from PDF Expert is the ability to make a document word-searchable from within the app. It works well with Dropbox and other cloud-storage services and will two-way sync, meaning that changes or annotations made on your mobile device will automatically appear on the computer version and vice-versa.

Notetaking Apps

Several apps make it easy to take notes (handwritten or typed) on a tablet or smartphone that sync back (through the cloud) to your main computer. Evernote is the most popular and is a great program. Some people prefer OneNote because it integrates well with other Microsoft Office programs (and it’s free if you already have the Office365 subscription).

Notability is a slightly different app specifically designed for folks who like to take a lot of handwritten notes. It is regarded as one of the premier apps for this specific functionality. Penultimate is a stripped-down alternative to Notability that syncs with Evernote and makes your handwritten notes searchable.

Legal Research Apps

Westlaw and Lexis both have very solid mobile apps. As with the mobile version of Microsoft Word, they do not behave quite the same as the desktop software, but still are very good. The free research databases available through the State Bar, Fastcase and Casemaker, also have mobile versions.

Take the time to become familiar with the mobile app that connects to your online legal database of choice. The ability to quickly research legal authority cited by an opponent in court can be indispensable. That’s one reason to practice using the mobile app periodically.

Scanning Apps

Being able to scan a document while on the road is handy. You can do this with the camera on your smartphone or tablet, but there are apps that will make scanning easier and produce better results. Several apps let users take quick snapshots of a document or pages of documents, convert them into a PDF, and, in some instances, even convert them to a searchable PDF. Most of the good apps will also let you save the PDF into several of the cloud-based file-management services previously discussed.

Although Evernote is primarily known as a note-taking service, it has a great mobile app for scanning. If you’re an Evernote user, you should check out the mobile app.

ScanSnap Cloud complements the ScanSnap iX500 scanner discussed in the previous post. After creating an account, you can use the app to scan documents, business cards, receipts, or photos and save them in the cloud-storage services specified for each type. For example, with documents, you can have scans automatically upload to a default destination in Dropbox (e.g., /ScanSnap) and convert to searchable PDFs. With receipts, you can have the scans automatically upload to Expensify (addressed below). Having the scanner default to the same destination simplifies the processing of scanned documents for saving in the correct location.

Scanner Pro is a solid scanning app from the makers of PDF Expert. It works with several cloud storage services and will create searchable PDFs from scans.

Adobe Scan complements the Adobe Document Cloud subscription mentioned earlier in the series. It has an auto-capture feature that will search for and lock in on a document visible through your camera lens. The app allows you to crop, rotate, reorder pages, or otherwise edit the document before saving it to the cloud in searchable PDF form.

Other apps to consider are Abbyy FineScanner, Turboscan, and Scanbot. Make sure that the app will let you scan multiple image captures to a single PDF file. And see how easy it is to then email the PDF to someone.


This app effectively handles all aspects of expense reporting. Any receipt delivered by email (e.g., hotel, car rental, or flight receipts) can be forwarded to an email address for entry into the Expensify system. For other receipts, simply take a picture of the receipt with your phone and add it the list in the Expensify app. Receipts can be easily categorized and organized into expense reports that can then be forwarded by email as detailed PDFs. The Pro version (which requires an annual fee) lets you forward pictures of any receipt to Expensify, where it is OCRd and entered into Expensify for you, saving you the trouble of manually entering information for restaurant, cab, and other miscellaneous travel-related expenses.


This app easily organizes all your trip-related information. Like Expensify, you forward any travel-related email (e.g., flight plans, hotel reservations, or car rental confirmations) to an email address for saving to your profile. TripIt then groups various items together as trips based on the dates involved. You can easily track your flights, hotel reservations, and car rentals all in one easy-to-view location. The Pro version allows you to share this information with others, including your staff, colleagues, and family members.

In the fifth and final post of this series, we’ll cover the essential skills needed for effective mobile lawyering and some best practices, including recommendations for keeping your client data safe.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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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