Robyn Rebollo is the Manager of Library Services for Ross, Dixon & Bell, LLP. Robyn has worked in law firm settings most of her career. She is also an adjunct faculty member for the Catholic University of America's School of Library & Information Science, teaching a course titled "An Introduction to Law Libraries and Law Library Management." She is a member of the Special Libraries Association and the Law Librarians Society of Washington, DC. Robyn holds a Master's degree in Library Science and a Bachelor's degree in English from the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
[Editor's Note: on June 3, 2005 Thomson West announced the acquisition of CourtEXPRESS]
Law firms that specialize heavily on litigation work rely on a number of services to locate active cases and monitor their developments. These firms are also increasingly analyzing and interpreting the various pleadings available online through Pacer, and a selected number of state courts.
The definition of a docket:
1. n. A formal record in which a judge or court clerk briefly notes all the proceedings and filings in a court case <review the docket to determine the filing date> –Also termed judicial record; bench docket; docket sheet.
2. A schedule of pending cases also termed court calendar; cause list; trial calendar.
-Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition
This article will not concentrate so much on all the numerous services that have evolved throughout the years of legal research (PACER, CourtLink, Court Express and the old Case Stream), but rather on the differences between some of these services. The addition of new online docket sources and websites have brought some fair competition into the docket searching scene, and there are now a range of valuable search techniques available from some online docket retrieval services.
PACER still remains a reliable and economical way to retrieve dockets from the federal court system. It is also the cheapest way to retrieve an updated federal docket, charging $.08 per page for your search result. It is fine to use for a simple request such as a nature of suit search, docket number search in a particular jurisdiction, or party name search for a unique last name or company. But what if your search criteria include two party names? And you are not sure if the case resides in a New York Federal District, or New York State Supreme Court? PACER is not reliable for this type of complex search. What service(s) would one use for this type of search? A good researcher would check his/her options and decide if it would be best to perform a number of searches on the web for free via the E-Law Services (complete case information compiled directly from the New York Supreme Court dockets – free of charge). From there he or she might try and search all the New York federal district courts in one combined swoop by both party names on CourtLink, WestDockets, or CourtExpress. A more savvy searcher might use Courtlink or WestDockets for a combined search. They both have the capability of combining state and federal courts to search for civil cases filed in the Supreme Courts of New York and the New York Federal District Courts.
- federal court coverage
- state and local court coverage
- alert feature for monitoring news cases (note that only LexisNexis and WestDockets include state courts)
- document retrieval ordering service online for pleadings that are not available electronically
Westdockets provide combined databases for federal and state courts for the following states: Arizona, Connecticut, California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. Westlaw has been working diligently on adding more state courts, and providing customers with several different ways of searching for what they need. Westdockets also provides subject area docket databases for selective categories. A few examples include securities and labor and employment. Another feature that I like about WestDockets is their link integration of docket sheets. You will notice docket links in certain KeyCite results and docket searching offerings included in practice areas.
A standard federal search on WestDockets allows one to combine a number of fields including party name (the name of any party involved in the suit), docket number (docket, index or case number assigned by the court), nature of suit (subject matter classification used in federal civil litigation), and even the docket proceed (full text of docket entries).
CourtLink launched a new interface, along with enhanced searching capabilities on April 4, 2005. I have briefly used their new interface through a dedicated website, and have found a great improvement in search capabilities. They have included a tab layout for specific search activities that will be helpful for those who like tab structures in their research interfaces. There's also a helpful court availability feature at the top right of the new CourtLink page, which will indicate which courts are available for a specific kind of search function (for example: alert, track, regular search, online documents and strategic profiles), and whether the access method is online or a runner court service.
Another great CourtLink offering is the ability to review your transactional charges online through the My Account Tab. It includes billing information for the current month, and also offers a filter feature by date if you want to review older billing information. Court Express also offers current and historical billing details, under their Invoice Tools menu. Users can even preview their transaction history before it is added into a monthly invoice. Have you noticed that LexisNexis has now integrated CourtLink into their popular Lexis online service? Researchers, especially attorneys, who are not familiar with using CourtLink can now access CourtLink databases from the main LexisNexis page, under a folder titled Court Records from CourtLink.
On June 15, 2005 File & Serve will introduce new functionality that will enable users to extend searches and reports beyond a firm's case files to the LexisNexis® File & Serve online repository of case files. It will also include charge back fields to accurately allocate costs to your clients. To view a complete list of courts and e-service cases online with LexisNexis File & Serve, see this link: http://www.lexisnexis.com/fileandserve/courtsavailable.asp.
Docket Alerts & Tracking
Is there a better service to monitor new cases that have been filed for a specific case or subject area? CourtLink and Westdockets have alert services for both new federal and state cases that are filed, but state coverage is limited. Courtlink lists the following states for their alert service: California, Los Angeles County, Delaware Court of Chancery, Illinois County Circuit Court and New York Supreme Courts statewide. Westdockets alert service covers the following states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Please note that each state has a selective number of courts for regional areas within their jurisdiction.
Pricing for these services vary. WestDockets charges $5.00 for the viewing of the actual docket if an update occurs. They also charge $4.00 for the monitoring of US Districts Courts whether it is daily, weekdays (Monday-Friday), bi-weekly, or monthly. Monitoring fees occur only when an alert delivers new and valid results. CourtLink charges differ by type of search and jurisdiction. See CourtLink's pricing list for more details.
I should also note that Pacer does offer free court tracking in a limited number of federal courts, but it is not the easiest monitoring service to setup, and it requires the user to have an individual account with Pacer, which many larger firms avoid doing due to the billing hassles involved. Please see Paul Bush's article for more details on Pacer and other free electronic monitoring resources on the web.
Current Awareness Sources for Monitoring New Cases
There are some additional sources that litigators relied on before all the email tracking, and they are still considerably helpful for locating new litigation by topical area in federal and state courts. Two resources that I recommend are Mealeys (owned by LexisNeixs) and Andrews (owned by Thomson/West) newsletters. Both content providers have email services available for subscribers. Westlaw even offers a free email for only newsletter highlights, which anyone can subscribe to with a Westlaw password. These newsletters provide editorial summaries of new cases, and often times add hypertext links to specific pleadings (briefs, complaints, rulings) they are discussing. I would be remiss if I did not mention BNA newsletters as well in this category. They continue to provide timely analysis of active litigation for both state and federal courts.
Additional sources that have brought competition to docket tracking include CourtHouse News Service and Want's Alerts. CourtHouse News Service isn't too new, but it has gained immense popularity with the attorney community due to their delivery frequency (they publish nightly for daily morning delivery) and editorial summaries of new federal and state cases. They too provide immediate downloads for selective pleadings. The cost for CourtHouse News Service is $100 per month, per office location, per jurisdiction. It can get pretty pricey if you are subscribing to several states for numerous office locations. Want's Filings Alert Daily covers only new federal cases, and they don't offer editorial enhancements. They are basically running daily US Case Party searches by nature of suit, and then sending it via email, offering a subject area breakdown. The price is fairly reasonable: $350 per year, per area of law, for the daily email service. Want's also provides a nice summary of cases for free in their weekly web compilation called Federal Filings Alert. It reports on only a selected few of the cases actually filed in the areas antitrust, copyright, equal employment, patents, products liability and trademarks. This is only available from the web at this time, but there are developments (August/September '05) to offer a more comprehensive weekly email for a fee of $95.00, and that will apply regardless of the number of users and firm locations.
Business Development Reports
The law librarian community has been very receptive of CourtLink's Strategic Profiles, which offer statistical summary reports for the following categories: attorney/law firm, nature of suit, judicial, litigant and court information. Users will notice some new bells and whistles that were added to these reports, including the capability to manipulate the results data, even in pie chart form. By the click of a mouse, users can choose a selection of the pie chart and highlight it for purposes of a power point or online presentation. The reports are also available in PDF format, which both attorneys and clients seem to prefer. Pricing for CourtLink's Strategic Profiles vary by type of search and jurisdiction (some states are now available). Check Lexis' pricing guide for details.
CourtExpress realized the potential in gathering court statistics for law firms' business development needs. They offer "Trend Reports" that include court statistics for the following subject areas: litigation, attorney/firm, nature of suit, jurisdictional and judicial. Pricing is a competitive with Lexis' Strategic Profiles, and they are worth reviewing. A snapshot of a trend report that shows litigation activity by court for the Motorola company appears at left.
Web Guide and Resources
The tough part of docket research is realizing there are a number of state courts that do not value the importance of docket reporting. There are actually some courts out there that do not record dockets. I've made several requests to court retrieval services for more obscure state county courts, where a runner actually had to hand record the proceedings of a case, and then fax it to me.
One way of checking on whether or not a court has an available docket is contacting the court directly. A thorough web search in Google or another search engine will usually provide a link to a specific state court. You can also try Want's Court Directories for phone contacts.
There are some excellent resources out there as well that have created gateways for both state and federal courts. Two worth mentioning are LLRX's Court Rules, Forms and Dockets (free, continuously updated searchable database edited by law librarian Margaret Berkland) and Legal Dockets Online web service (fee).
Another state specific resource for Texas researchers is Idocket.com, and Virtual Docket, for the state of Delaware. Andy Zimmerman's Research Guide on Docket Sheets includes some helpful information on docket research.
Web links for sources covered in the article
CourtHouse News Service
E Law Service
LLRX Court Rules, Forms & Dockets - Free
Legal Dockets Online - Fee
Lexis Nexis File & Serve
Want's Filings Daily Alert