Will PACER’s records removal motivate use of software alternatives?

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Earlier this month, PACER announced court documents for closed cases from the last decade in the U.S. Courts of Appeals of the Second, Seventh, Eleventh, and Federal circuits, as well as documents from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California will no longer be electronically available. More details, including the specific date ranges of what cases have been removed, are available here. Will users react to this event by increasing their use of free PACER alternatives currently available on the internet? The immediate reactions to this news have been justifiably critical of PACER’s actions:

PACER states the reason for the removal involves the impending implementation of “NextGen”, which has been developed to replace the current Case Management and Electronic Case Files System (CM/ECF). The above courts stored their records on locally created case management systems, systems that, according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts as reported by the Washington Post, could not be made to be compatible with NextGen.

Rather than increase usage of PACER’s NextGen, will this situation, where such an enormous collection of data has been so quickly eradicated, signal a change in user behavior and lead to heavier usage of the alternative databases that store and mirror the collections found on PACER? The obvious alternatives include RECAP, the software that populates the Internet Archive with PACER dockets and documents essentially via crowd-sourcing, and then offers those dockets and documents in the Internet Archive for free. PlainSite is another repository containing federal court dockets and documents that offers free searching and retrieval. Justia, too, offers an easily navigable interface that contains dockets and documents for free, including those no longer available in PACER. The shortfall with these alternatives to PACER concerns the completeness of a case’s available documents; most of the sites are populated with the opinions of the cases, but getting the briefing, or other documents, can be spotty.

More, cloud-and-crowd-source-based alternatives to PACER could potentially see an uptick in users as well. PacerPro, which I wrote about previously here, is definitely one of these interfaces; once a PacerPro user downloads a document from PACER, this document is added to PacerPro’s cloud and becomes free for all other PacerPro users to access–the big caveat right now is PacerPro has neither appellate nor bankruptcy courts available in its system. Though, PacerPro CEO Gavin McGrane mentions on the PacerPro blog, that adding appellate and bankruptcy courts is in the works. Inforuptcy, another piece of software that fits the cloud-and-crowd-source bill (and another piece of software I have written about here), saves documents users retrieve from PACER to its own cloud as well. Users of this interface can then, similarly, freely download these cloud-saved documents. Inforuptcy currently has bankruptcy courts, but not district and appellate, though, according to Bob Ambrogi’s LawSites blog, district courts are planned to be added by the end of the year. And lastly, the large commercial vendor Bloomberg BNA operates on the cloud-and-crowd-source model as well; again, once users download a PACER document through the Bloomberg BNA interface, these documents become free to other users. Bloomberg BNA has district, appellate, and bankruptcy courts, but also carries a heftier price tag. These alternatives attempt to mirror and host the PACER collection while also providing document pull cost-savings to users and sleeker interfaces, and all could see their stock rise now that PACER has opted to destroy their electronic records.

The no-longer-electronically-accessible documents can be obtained from these courts directly—either by sending a court runner, or possibly enlisting a snail mail request. The drawbacks are, runners can be expensive (a minimum of $100 is usually required), and snail mail requests can potentially take longer than what’s acceptable in a firm. A third alternative is to use the Westlaw and Lexis brief banks to see if the big commercial companies have scanned and hosted court documents on their own servers—and, of course, there are various costs associated with doing that as well.

All in all, though this is a burdensome situation, it also presents a great opportunity to law librarians as retrieving court documents is one of our many specialties.

Tell us your favorite apps – get featured!

emot-applauseiBraryGuy is excited to announce a new crowdsourced feature.  Let’s hear your APPlause!

It seems like there is an app for everything these days. Just within the realm of information alone, there are apps for staying updated on the news, conducting research, managing your time, communicating with your team, and even billing for the good work you do. These are just the tip of the technological iceberg! At iBraryGuy, we do our very best to share reviews of some of our latest and greatest app discoveries. Yet we cannot help but wonder what you are using. Continue reading

Vendor Trends: Interactive Data Visualizations

The Exhibit Hall at AALL showcased a clear trend towards vendors offering visualization tools to improve the process of legal researching. From a macro level, legal research has transitioned from being a chiefly print-based medium to a primarily electronic-based medium, and, encouragingly, vendors have developed tools to really exploit this shift. Continue reading

SLA Offers 2014 Contributed Papers

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Original scholarship is an often over-looked part of many annual conferences. It tends to get lost iin the chaotic shuffle between presentations, continuing education, time in the exhibit halls, and, of course, the need for social interaction with colleagues. It often seems that the heroes who work so hard on contributed papers end up having ther praises unsung. Luckily, the Special Libraries Association is belting out a tune of praise for its scholars from this year’s annual conference. Continue reading

Tracking Legislation: GovTrack.us & LegiScan

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As legal information professionals, I am sure you have received requests to track proposed legislation. Changes in statutory law are obviously fundamentally important to the practice of law. The potential for legislative change creates an information need requiring a method of monitoring the status of proposed legislation as it bounces around the legislature. Thankfully, monitoring proposed laws/bills can be done electronically. In fact, there is an abundance of software and services that can accomplish this task. In the past, I have turned to subscription services to set these tracks up. Using a Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg BNA is fine and will do the job of tracking legislation for you, but the drawback to these services is they cost money. Notably, there are alternatives on the web that track legislation, and do so for free. Continue reading

Quickly Check the Availability of State Court Electronic Docket and Document Access With CourtReference.com

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Though I have detailed its flaws, PACER’s existence as the centralized interface containing electronic access to Federal court dockets and documents makes our jobs as law librarians much easier. State courts, on the other hand, are the wild west of electronic docket and document access. Continue reading

iBraryguy Releases “60 Sites in 60 Minutes” List from SLA2014! Who made the cut?

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It was another big year for “60 Sites in 60 Minutes” at the 2014 Special Libraries Association Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO. Hosted by the Legal Division of SLA and generously sponsored by LexisNexis, the panel once again shared their top picks with a full house. From search sites to news, travel, and even a bit of irreverent fun, there was something for everyone! What sites made the cut? You can find out here. Continue reading

Ravel Law: Visualizing Legal Research

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Ravel Law incorporates the age-old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” into legal research. Visualization is fundamentally incorporated into Ravel Law’s software design. When users conduct a search on a legal topic, or a prior case, Ravel delivers an interactive graphic displaying cases associated with this topic or prior case; the cases that are the most heavily cited have larger icons, thus signifying quickly to researchers which cases are fundamentally important to whatever topic or prior case they’re researching.

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Inforuptcy: Enhanced & Cost Effective Bankruptcy Docket & Document Retrieval

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Interfacing with PACER is just a fact of life, especially for those of you working in Bankruptcy practice groups. Our country’s Bankruptcy courts, of course, are electronically accessible via PACER, and feature cases with massive dockets comprised of thousands of filed documents; many trees are destroyed during bankruptcy proceedings. So, the ability to locally store dockets and documents and keep these files organized is a Herculean challenge—in practice, most legal professionals presumably end up querying PACER over and over again, pulling the same documents multiple times. The issue with this: every time you pull a docket or document from PACER, you are charged a fee ($.10 a page, capped at $3.00 per document). It doesn’t matter if you pull the same document three times, you will be charged a fee every time you pull it. Continue reading

iBraryGuy Hits the Conference Circuit!

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  No, we are not referring to the end of the year holidays.  We are talking about library summer conference season, of course. That time of year when the business cards come out, the presentations go on, and the networking and educational opportunitiesget craaaaazy!  Hold onto your lanyards folks, because iBraryGuy is hitting the road with you. Continue reading