Problem exists between chair and keyboard

Toshiyuki IMAI on Flickr

If you ever hear the IT support guys mention ‘PEBCAK’ you know it’s time to brush up on your IT skills. My husband, charming soul that he is, often diagnoses PEBCAK. To be fair, he’s usually right. But we all have our PEBCAK moments…


A little over a year ago I wrote a blog post about my first steps into paperless working (here : The digital revolution…rolling slowly towards us…). This month’s counsel magazine has a piece on that topic by Paul Hart, (How to e-work Pt 2) and reassuringly a few of the top tips are those which I too would share with others slightly further behind me on this steep learning curve. I thought I’d add my two pennorth to the mix – there have been some really useful discussions on twitter from time to time about these issues but they tend to get lost in the stream, so I thought it would be helpful to note down my top tips here, as a reference point for others – and if we’re lucky some others will add their own tips in comments.


I’m now working largely paperless, so much so that the last time I went to the chambers photocopier to print out a case summary for a judge I couldn’t remember my login. My suitcase corner in chambers is full of forlorn unloved suitcases and my shoulders are grateful that these days all they have to bear is a backpack with a laptop, an ipad and a change of shoes in it.


I use two devices : my ipad is for bundles, my laptop is for typing. On it I usually display my running note of a hearing and any cross examination / prep notes. On my macbook I’ve discovered the joys of the split screen function which saves you faffing around trying to move between overlapping windows – so I have one word doc on the left and one on the right. I have spent years without working out how to do this – it makes the visual experience so much clearer and less stressful. Here’s how you do it :


  • Open the two documents you want to work on.
  • In the top left corner of your word doc you should have a red, yellow and green circle. Click AND HOLD the green one to get the split screen function up – a half of your screen will go blue – drag the word doc into that half and then select the other word doc to fill the other half.
  • If you have your macbook set up like I do to move between desktops by putting your mouse into the screen corner (don’t ask me how to set this up or what its called, I can’t remember) you can move between the split screen and everything behind it e.g. your email. If it’s a directions hearing and my use of the bundle is likely to be limited I might just have the bundle open in pdf expert in the background so I can refer to it if required – and I won’t bother opening my laptop.


I now don’t take blue books to court at all. I work entirely on word. One less thing to fit in the backpack and I no longer have to decipher my own handwriting. This of course is only really feasible if your typing is up to scratch, which fortunately mine is.


I sometimes keep an electronic post it note on my desktop to write down points that come up during evidence or submissions – so I remember for re-examination or to adjust my submissions / reply.


So, the laptop and the bundle. I’ve had a few moments of e-bundle-rage but the reality is these have largely been time consuming through a lack of familiarity and now I’ve got into the groove this stuff is no more irritating than constructing, paginating and updating our own paper bundles which we’ve all wasted many precious hours on through the years.


Because you have your notes open on another device you can have your bundle full screen. I have an ipad pro so its really no smaller than A4 if you stand your ipad in portrait mode.


Like the writer in counsel magazine I’ve found it works best when using a bundle of any appreciable size to separate out specific  sections into their own pdf, which you can call SECTION A etc. open up all the relvant sections before the hearing in separate sections, move them into the right order (might be section by section or it might be the two or three high use sections right next to each other) and you can switch seamlessly between them as required. The beauty of this is twofold :


  • If a witness is asked by your opponent to go to page C546 in the bundle, and you are working on a single pdf bundle – unless you have the sort of memory that tells you that C546 is the fifth page of the mother’s statement you are going to take a few seconds to get there and work out what the reference is about. If however you have section C separately you can simply type 546 in the page number box and bingo – you are there! At C546. Of course if some annoying person has added C524a to ao this will work less seamlessly but I recently dealt with this by marking the bookmarks on my section C with alternate numbers – so my index said M’s statement C546 (C556) to remind me I’d need to add 10 for all pages that followed the annoying insertion.
  • If you need to ask questions that require cross referencing between two sections – say a statement in section C and some primary materials in section M (or whatever) you can move between page C546 in one tab and page M54 in another without losing your place. If you were working on one bundle you’d have to keep typing in the page number to get back to C546 and then to M54 and then back.


An alternative is that you can also make hyperlinks between different bits of your bundle so you can move with one click from the assertion in the witness statement you want to undermine to the primary evidence that does the job (on a paper bundle I’d usually write ‘see M54’ on C546 and vice versa). I’ve found this a bit fiddly to set up and I have a tendency to click on the link when I didn’t mean to so I don’t find it particularly helpful. It also requires a particular sort of trial prep – unless it’s ‘that sort of case’ this won’t be a time saver, just an irritant.


I’ve found the ipad pencil really helpful for marking up my bundle. Its particularly good where your pdf is texty (by which I mean not a flat image, a file where the computer recognizes the text as text) because it will draw you a nice neat highlighter line without squiggling all over the wrong bits.


Indexing – some bundles come with a clickable index already – we love those. Others don’t. If you don’t have an index I’d recommend building one. Again, its not much more time consuming than tabbing up a paper bundle with ‘M’s ws Apr 19’ etc – I usually also include the page no at the end of the description to help with navigation, so : ‘M W/S Apr 19 C51’. And then if you are working on a single file pdf and someone shouts C54 you can go to C51 and then swipe forward a few pages.


I’ve also found its better to have a nested index so that each section can be unfurled and furled. If you simply have a list of all references / index points for a whole bundle they will go off the bottom of the screen and you won’t be able to use the index to good effect. Keep all sections of the index furled save the one you are looking at and its much less unwieldy.


PDF expert and Adobe DC Pro both have a similar system for adding indexes / bookmarks and for nesting them. I won’t explain that here because I think its just easier to learn by trial and error. But essentially it behaves much like folders on any computer – you drag an item into the next level up to make it a ‘child’ of the main section. So drag ‘M W/S Apr 19 C51’ into ‘SECTION C’ so it all falls under that main heading.


Of course some bundles don’t even come in a single pdf file let alone have an index. I’ve recently received an massive bundle in the form of a series of pdfs scanned from a printed copy (and thus all slightly off horizontal), with each section broken down into separate pdfs of about 30 pages each : Section C page 1-30, Section C page 31-60 etc etc. This made me want to weep, but actually once I’d got into the swing of it I realized that Adobe DC Pro is actually quite good at combining files so you can stitch them into one. I relatively easily used the combine feature to join all of Section C together, all of Section D together etc. This meant that the pagination of the pdf for one section matched the pagination of that section (except for those bits with C543c type numbering). What then caused problems at trial was that one witness, phoning in from abroad, in response to my requests that she turn to page C543 would ask ‘Is that Section C part 1, Section C part 2 or Section C part 3?’ – and of course I had no clue… You can’t solve ‘em all.


The scan quality of that particular bundle was too poor to be able to run the pdf through the OCR tool on Adobe DC Pro but this is a really useful tool that I am waiting for a good chance to get to grips with. It is SO useful when working with a really unwieldy bundle, for example one with thousands of pages of case logs, to be able to do a keyword search on a pdf that is texty (though you do have to correct for misspelt names etc). If your bundle arrives in texty format it’s a joy. If you can convert it then do. When someone says ‘where is the first reference to X’ or ‘where are the case logs from this date’ you will be able to go straight there. You can also grab and paste text into submissions or chronologies.


Extracting and sending individual pages is another useful feature. Often at court somebody says they are missing the last order or some recent disclosure. You can use pdf expert to select a subset of pages from your bundle and by clicking extract it will create a separate pdf which is just that bit. You can then email it to your colleague, or the judge etc for major brownie points.


I use mainly Pdf Expert which is reasonably cheap and works on both ipad and laptop, but have also recently purchased Adobe DC Pro which is a bit more pricy but others swear by it in particular for the OCR conversion tools. I’ve not yet fully tested that out and most of the other stuff (combining files and indexing for example) can be done on Pdf Expert too, although combining is a bit more intuitive on DC Pro. For viewing and working on pdfs on your ipad during hearings though Pdf Expert is the way to go.


Finally, I use Dropbox Business (not the free one) to share all my files between my various devices. Its important to make sure that you select make available offline or download for any file you are likely to be needing in court, just incase the internet goes down and it struggles to retrieve the file. And just as important to remove the downloaded file from your device once you are no longer needing it, for data protection purposes. Each case has a folder of its own, and I’m piloting a system where my clerks can deposit bundles and updates in the folder on receipt so they magically appear. Its memory hungry on my poor decrepit macbook, so I find its best to use the selective sync function to ensure that you are only syncing those folders which are really current with your device. I send most attendance notes by email, and of course those get stored in the folder too – where I’ve sent one in the body of an email rather than an attached word doc I simply save the email to my folder but rename it attendancenote050619.eml so I can locate it again if I ever need to refer back or send on to a colleague doing the return hearing.


I think that is most of my wisdom for the moment. I have a lot to learn – but looking back at last year’s post I realise how much more adept at this I am than I was back then – it is definitely getting easier and after the first few trials I no longer take a paper copy as a security blanket in case I get in a flap with the IT and it really has become the normal way of working for me now.


Do let me know what tips you all have – I’ll either publish them as comments or just add them to the bottom of this post.


Feature pic : Toshiyuki IMAI on Flickr – thanks

One thought on “Problem exists between chair and keyboard

  1. This is the reason I get tablet envy every time I go to court.

    I spent the day carrying round 3 paper bundles for cases, they were all relatively simple hearings and I think I referred to one of the bundles twice the whole day. But I know, the day I decide I can do without the paper bundle will be that day I need it.

    My tablet worked intermittently though out the day, and for the last hearing gave up entirely so I couldn’t even draft the order, fourthly the solicitous r the child was kind enough to draft if for me.

    Hopefully one day, LA tech will catchup the the rest of the legal world.

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