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SmallLaw: A Trusty Sidekick: Using the iPad 2 in the Field in a Wrongful Death Case

By Clark Stewart | Thursday, May 26, 2011

Originally published on April 26, 2011 in our free SmallLaw newsletter. Instead of reading SmallLaw here after the fact, sign up now to receive future issues in realtime.

I am an unabashed Apple fanboy. They say the first step to recovery is admitting the problem. I was in line at Wal-Mart the day of the iPad 2's release. While I've used the iPad extensively in my solo practice since purchasing Steve Jobs' magical device, I was finally able to put it through the paces a couple weeks ago in the field here in Gadsen, Alabama.

I recently filed a wrongful death case against several municipalities in Alabama on behalf of a client who lost his only son during a high-speed chase gone wrong.

My Investigation at the Scene of the Accident

I conducted my own preliminary investigation using my 16 GB WiFi iPad 2 and a number of supporting apps and gadgets, including a Verizon MiFi for an Internet connection.

Once on the scene of the accident I accessed my DropBox iPad app to pull up my client's file and compared the photos in there with the scene in front of me. The iPad shined in this endeavor as the two years that had passed from the accident to the lawsuit had not been kind to the accident site. The paint used to mark points of impact and the location of the body had nearly faded to oblivion, so my "fresh" iPad photos became my landmarks.

I used Voice Recorder HD with DropBox support to record a brief statement from my witness while simultaneously taking notes in Penultimate using a Kensington Virtuoso stylus rather than my pudgy fingers.

I used my Canon EOS Rebel T1i EF-S DSLR to take multiple photos of the scene. Then, using the EyeFi wireless memory card I loaded these files into my iPad for later review.

In conjunction with the MiFi, I was able to search the Alabama court system's database to see what kind of criminal record my witness sported in case I needed to perform damage control in the future.

Using Google Maps and an officer's statement of the chase, I retraced the route through the county while the iPad sat shotgun (I was able to watch the dash-cam video of the chase before heading out to "relive" the chase).

While following the chase path I received a call from my client stating that an interview I gave a local station was playing on the radio. Once at his office I used the iCab Mobile Web browser to locate the audio clip on the station's Web site and saved it to my DropBox account. This browser lets me do things previously only available on jailbroken iOS devices. I also used iCab Mobile to look up some slang that an officer buddy gave me regarding his opinion of the subject cop in my lawsuit. Even I didn't know what "high-speed, low drag" meant!

After my investigation I used the 30 minute drive back to my office to catch up on email and Facebook via the VoiceBrief app that speaks aloud your email and other information.

An Almost Perfect Sidekick: 90% Bill Gannon, 10% Barney Fife

To be fair, using the iPad was not without its cons. The major issue I encountered was the GPS support. As noted above, I have the 16 GB WiFi model. As I understand mobile GPS technology, Apple products rely on both the internal GPS radio as well as cell tower triangulation to provide the most accurate location fix for the user. Since my iPad has no cellular radio I was limited to the internal GPS to get me from A to B, which proved problematic.

Although it could easily find the address of a witness I needed to speak with, it struggled to find my current location to calculate a route. It insisted on using my last known address as the point of origin when in fact that was 30 miles away! Perhaps I found a bug that Apple will address in the future, but in the end I had to use my iPhone to get to my starting point. Once I set a land-speed record to cross the rural county to make my appointment with my witness, the iPad performed beautifully.

Another complaint is the amount of glare on the iPad's screen. I was outside on a sunny day and had a really hard time seeing the documents and photos on the iPad. I can live with this issue as sunglasses and anti-glare screen protectors can help.

In hindsight I could have used the iPad 2's built-in cameras to take video and photos of the scene. While the HD video ability is useful I'm not impressed with the still camera results. After a photo is blown up to fit the display it loses a lot of image quality. Knowing my photos may well become exhibits I opted to bring the big gun — my Canon Rebel. I could have watched the dash-cam video via DropBox, but streaming it would have taken forever. We've all wiped the blood from our ears after watching a YouTube video over a 3G connection! I recommend using the iPad's native iPod app synced from iTunes to load any videos you need.


I was pleased with the performance of my iPad for legitimate legal investigatory work. As an added bonus, after its debut in the field, the iPad 2 is now a bona-fide tax write-off.

Written by Gadsden, Alabama lawyer Clark Stewart.

Publisher's Note: The WiFi iPad lacks assisted GPS. If you need GPS functionality, buy the AT&T or Verizon WiFi + 3G model. — Neil J. Squillante

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Topics: Laptops/Smartphones/Tablets | Litigation/Discovery/Trials | SmallLaw
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