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Notes from the Technology Trenches - Full-Text Docket Searching and Advanced Criminal Docket Research from MarketSpan; SurfSaver 2.0 from askSam

By Roger V. Skalbeck, Published on March 15, 2000

Roger Skalbeck is the Electronic Initiatives Librarian at Howrey & Simon in Washington, D.C., and is the Web Master of the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.  This column reflects the personal views of the author, which are not necessarily those of his employer or any other organization. This column, of course, is 100% free of any legal advice.

New Features on MarketSpan Products 

MarketSpan has introduced some revolutionary new products for researching and tracking federal court dockets, and it has just come out with some impressive enhancements to its CaseStream Historical service. Perhaps not satisfied with being the first vendor to allow researchers to search on query multiple elements of court dockets (where you can combine searches for court, cause of action, party name, judge, law firm, etc.), MarketSpan now allows you to search within the full text of the dockets themselves.

In a nutshell, CaseStream Historical is a proprietary database of PACER federal district court dockets, which have been enhanced by extending the available search options. The dockets that MarketSpan provides are stored on its own database, and are re-indexed and re-processed after being obtained from PACER. This new full-text search feature coincides with a substantially revised search interface, which comes along with other advanced features, which are described briefly below.

For me, the full-text docket searching is the most impressive of the new CaseStream features. This functionality makes it possible to combine searches of any element of the docket’s cover sheet together with words or phrases from any place in the docket itself. To test out this feature, I performed a search for a computer hardware manufacturer, and checked to see if I could find any entries for expert witnesses in the area of intellectual property. From the sixteen dockets that were obtained, a handful had very relevant information. Without the option to search the text of the dockets, this example yields 51 possible cases, which would have to be reviewed docket-by-docket to determine if expert witnesses are mentioned.

The researcher might use the new MarketSpan full-text docket searching to pinpoint relevant pleadings based on any number of combinations, such as:

Existence of a motion to extend time filed by a certain firm or attorney within a known district court

In addition to full-text searching of pleading titles, new features on MarketSpan's products include:

The ability to search based on statute and/or cause-of-action, as recorded on the district court cover sheet. In an effort to go beyond the 3-digit cause of action codes that appear in PACER and within PACER's U.S. Party/Case Index, MarketSpan allows you to search statutes and named causes. A statute might be something like 29:106 (for 29 U.S.C. § 106). A named cause appears on the docket sheet as the name of a statute or cause such as the Whistleblower Protection Act, Truth in Lending, CERCLA, dozens of named petitions and notices, as well as a host of others.

Caveats

Although Marketspan opens up new methods for research, please remember that search results are not 100% comprehensive. If there are spelling errors or shorthand used on dockets, critical items may be missing. In my first two example searches, if an expert is not specifically noted on the docket, CaseStream won't locate the relevant case. Also keep in mind that full-text docket searches are only done on the dockets available in the CaseStream database. Though there are reportedly two million dockets in its dynamic and growing database, CaseStream is always going to be out of synch with the items on PACER. Time lags will exist for very recent filings, and complete dockets are not always available when a search is performed.

Beyond these system limitations, also remember that PACER dockets are available from roughly 1990 to the present, depending on the court. Moreover, there are still a few courts that don’t participate in the PACER system, so they are similarly excluded from MarketSpan's services.

For additional insights into docket research tools, look no further than the LLRX Archive, where you can find useful coverage and greater depth of detail in articles such as the following:

SurfSaver 2.0 Released by askSam 

A new version of a handy web archiving and database tool came out recently, with some nice enhancements. The program is called SurfSaver, which is made by the database application company askSam. In a nutshell, this program can be used to store static copies of web pages in a database for later search and retrieval. It allows you to store pages in a searchable hierarchy of folders, which you can keep on a local drive with associated images, links and text. For a comprehensive look at this program, check out a review of the earlier version, which appeared here on LLRX a while back: Product Review: SurfSaver – By Susan Charkes (10/1/1998).

As the major fundamental elements of SurfSaver are covered by Susan Charkes' article, I won't go into detail about them here. SurfSaver 2.0 only works with Internet Explorer (4.0 or higher), so Netscape users will have to stick with the earlier version for now. The major enhancements to SurfSaver in the latest version include the following:

They've added "filing cabinets," which allow you to group similar categories of pages together more distinctly.

As one research application example, you might retrieve copies of web pages from a bookmark list or a bibliography of Web links, to allow you to further research that online content. This would be very useful for quick content analysis of large web-based document collections. As you can choose to store dynamic pages, you may also capture snapshot pictures from sites that are database-driven or otherwise very dynamic in nature. For database-driven sites, you could even use SurfSaver to document search strategies and results at a given point in time.

If you are adept at classifying and indexing documents, you might use SurfSaver to provide key words and annotations to go along with each selected page. These can each be searched independently, and in conjunction with other page elements, so you can add a very personalized level of organization to pages and sites that you collect and document.

As for cost, the free version of SurfSaver 2.0 is supported entirely by advertising. If you choose to do so, you can designate personal profile information and related preferences upon installation, which is supposed to make the advertisements more targeted. The ads appear on search screens,and are resident when you are retrieving web pages into your SurfSaver folders. As the ads on the search screen take up some significant browser real estate (maybe 100-150 pixels high), I think that the $29.95 full version is worth the price, especially if you use SurfSaver for advanced research. The other limitation of the free version is that you cannot change the drive where search results are saved, and you cannot easily share your results with colleagues.

As I see it, one of the biggest drawbacks of SurfSaver in its current version is that you can't easily browse the pages that you have selected to save. Though the searching is fairly good, it is difficult to determine the level and distribution of pages that you have stored in individual folders or filing cabinets. Also, if you obtain pages through SurfSaver's automated link-following features, you do not have a direct way to browse those pages without first searching for them.

All in all, the new version of SurfSaver provides good value for serious and comprehensive web researchers, and it is sure to be a good tool for those who love to document, collect and analyze web content within their professions.

If you have questions or comments on this month's column, please don't hesitate to send me an email. Also, please feel free to send suggestions for future topics.

As always, if you have comments or suggestions for future columns, please contact me.

Web Sites Mentioned in this column:

MarketSpan

PACER Service Center

CaseStream introduces Federal Criminal Litigation Intelligence

LLRX background articles on court docket services:

Court Docket Services - A Comparison of Pacer, CourtLink, CourtEXPRESS.com and CaseStream -- By Julie Bozzell (10/15/1999)

CourtExpress.com - The Web Enabled Docket Retrieval System -- By Sabrina I. Pacifici and Jeff Bosh (7/15/1999)

Federal Court Records on the Web -- By Mary Lynn Wagner (12/1/1999)

The PACER U.S. Party/Case Index: What it does and doesn't (quite) do -- By Roger V. Skalbeck (2/15/1998)

SurfSaver by askSam

Product Review: SurfSaver (for version 1.10, on LLRX.com)

Copyright © 2000 Roger V. Skalbeck. All Rights Reserved.