Sabrina I. Pacifici is the Editor, Publisher and Web Manager of LLRX.com. Jeff Bosh has been with Sidley & Austin in Washington, D.C., as the Associate Librarian for the past fourteen years. He has an extensive background in implementing value-added electronic systems for research at the desktop, including a firm-wide intranet.
If you have ever had to obtain complaints, pleadings or memoranda from federal district courts, you are aware that there are a series of time-consuming, and not necessarily efficient, steps involved in accomplishing the task.
Many legal researchers will be familiar with the process of logging-on to PACER, conducting a search, printing the relevant docket sheet, and then communicating the information to the attorney, who will then determine which pleadings should be obtained.
The next step in this process often involves contacting a local or regional document retrieval company to request the full-text of specific documents through their service. In order to insure accuracy regarding the request, an additional step in the process involves faxing the document retrieval company the docket sheet clearly indicating the required items. As a follow-up, a telephone call is placed to the document retrieval service to confirm that they have received your request, and to give them additional instructions. This is not exactly a quick process. Wouldn’t it be a significant improvement if all these tasks could be accomplished directly from your desktop, using a Web browser and e-mail?
Web Enabled Docket Retrieval
RIS Legal Services has developed just such a Web-enabled service. It streamlines the process of obtaining court docketing information as well as briefs, pleadings and other federal court filings. The service is called CourtEXPRESS.com, and it may be found at http://www.courtexpress.com. CourtEXPRESS.com provides access to the federal district court docketing system (PACER), utilizing a Web browser. From the CourtEXPRESS.com menu, users can obtain and e-mail federal court docket sheets, select the required items to be ordered, and submit a checklist of required items utilizing RIS’s document retrieval service. CourtEXPRESS.com clients can monitor docket information with a recurring search, which is defined by a user regarding frequency. Customers can also perform “off-line” searches, wherein a search is requested and CourtExpress notifies the user via e-mail when the search has been completed.
To begin using the system, users must first create a CourtEXPRESS.com login ID and password. Customers can choose to be billed monthly, or on a pay-as-you-go basis, using a credit card. Fees are $5 per search for account holders, or $10 per search for credit card users. Charges are only accrued when you receive results. If for any reason your search is not completed, there is no charge. CourtEXPRESS.com accounts are billed a $200 yearly administrative fee. Accounts are limited to the number of users at each firm, by address. Charges for document retrieval are $29 per case for all of the courts RIS directly covers from one of their twelve offices. Copying fees from any court are 75 cents per page. Case charges for other courts range from $39 to $99. If the case you need is stored in a Federal Records Center, the total case charge to retrieve your documents is $149.00, plus copying and delivery.
CourtEXPRESS.com has a useful tracking feature which allows firms to designate an account “administrator.” RIS has a policy whereby they contact the firm’s administrator when a request is logged from an unspecified user. The administrator may then validate the user for current and future CourtEXPRESS.com searches.
When logging into the CourtEXPRESS.com system through a Web browser, users are provided a menu of options from which to choose. The search aspect of the system gives access to the docketing systems of the Federal District Courts, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, Bankruptcy courts, and the National Locator Service. After specifying a party name or docket number (see Image 1), court locale and client reference number, a search is conducted through PACER via the CourtEXPRESS.com Web system. Users may then move on to another tasks on the Web or in their desktop applications. Notification that the search has been completed by CourtEXPRESS.com comes to the user via an e-mail. Once notified that the search is completed, users may log back into the CourtEXPRESS.com system and display the requested docket sheet (see Image 2). For each entry on the docket sheet, CourtEXPRESS.com provides a ‘check-box’ to select pleadings to be retrieved from the court. Having ‘checked’ all required items to be ordered (see Image 3), the user is then given a menu to fill out which includes time and shipping requirements, client reference numbers, contact phone numbers and any other notations which are necessary to complete the assignment. This form is e-mailed directly to RIS, and a work order is displayed allowing the user to double check for accuracy.
Another innovative feature of the system is that it allows a user to forward a docket sheet via e-mail to other interested individuals. In turn, these individuals may then review the docket sheet and select items to be ordered through RIS. Both the requestor and initiator of the search are notified via e-mail that items have been ordered, thereby keeping all parties informed of account activity.
The “recurring search” feature of the system allows users to monitor dockets on a daily, weekly or monthly basis (see Image 4). A recurring search will run during the late hours of the night and be ready for retrieval when the user arrives at work the next morning. CourtEXPRESS.com offers a recurring search twice a day, thereby ensuring both comprehensive coverage and that the most important dockets are being monitored.
Another feature of the system is that CourtEXPRESS.com members can create a profile that will monitor any lawsuits filed against a particular company in any number of predefined federal courts. For example, a user could create a profile called “Tobacco” that would track lawsuits filed against one of the major tobacco companies in the federal district courts of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Nature of Suit Searches
CourtEXPRESS.com allows users to search for cases using the Federal Court systems “nature of suit” numbering system (see Image 5). For example a user may perform a search which retrieves all “Stockholders suits” or “Motor Vehicle Product Liability” cases that have been filed in all federal courts in the last year.
Additionally, CourtEXPRESS.com allows users to perform a National Locator Service combined search. This search is performed in the U.S. Party Case Indexes for Civil, Criminal and Bankruptcy files. This “global” search feature costs $19 per search and can be helpful for due diligence verification of clients and potential employees.
During the last half of this year, RIS plans to implement three new features to CourtExpress.com. First will be ExpressTrack, an enhancement to the nature of suit search where users will be able build subject specific search queries to retrieve docket sheets for lawsuits related to their particular areas of expertise as they are filed in federal court. As an example, on a daily basis, such a query can scan the federal district courts for recently filed cases pertaining to “Asbestos Personal Injury Product Liability” (Nature of the Suite number 368). Used as a current awareness tool, this feature could help attorneys generate new business, giving them a competitive edge in an increasingly online market. ExpressTrack will also allow searching of litigants and attorneys, and this feature will allow attorneys to monitor what is happening with potential clients as well as opponent law firms.
Secondly, CourtExpress.com plans the addition of a “data mining” search. RIS plans to maintain on their system all the dockets that have been collected, and allow Boolean search access to these dockets with keyword queries. Users could search for dockets where a motion for summary judgement was file in an intellectual property case by a specific law firm or particular client, and then order the filing for use in your own particular situation.
Finally, CourtExpress.com plans to make available by the end of the year the various state courts that have electronic access to their docketing system.
CourtExpress.com has its occasional problems, but those problems are generally linked to connectivity with the PACER system. When a court is down on PACER, CourtExpress.com cannot link to the data source. CourtExpress.com is always prompt in acknowledging user comments, and very receptive to suggestions that will result in improvements to their system.
While some of the CourtEXPRESS.com functions are not new, RIS has creatively synthesized the process of obtaining federal court dockets sheets and federal court pleadings and memoranda. CourtEXPRESS.com applies the functionality of web browser technology to the PACER system while streamlining the process of obtaining court filings. Why use modem connection software, telephones and fax machines when a Web browser alone will enable you to access dockets and pleadings from federal courts!
From: Chris Hayes, CEO CourtEXPRESS.com
I appreciate the letter from Ms. Johnson regarding CourtEXPRESS.com. While no service that connects real time to PACER is perfect, we are striving to make CourtEXPRESS.com as reliable and fool-proof as possible. I can understand the urge to compare CourtEXPRESS.com to other docket retrieval systems, but there really is no comparison.
CourtEXPRESS.com is the only web site that provides case information from U.S. District, Bankruptcy, and Courts of Appeal and combines that with twenty years of document retrieval services. CourtEXPRESS.com has created new space on the Internet, much in the same way that LLRX and Amazon.com have done.
We are adding new courts to the site on a daily basis and will provide access to as many federal and state courts as possible. We provide coverage of all federal courts in California, except the two Ms. Johnson pointed out. All of our offices nationwide have an 800 number, and are open until at least 6PM Mondays through Fridays, local time, including our Los Angeles office. We are successfully marketing CourtEXPRESS.com throughout California, and the West in general.
In the brief amount of time we have been on the Web we have received numerous commendations from satisfied clients who have rapidly adopted CourtEXPRESS.com as their choice for federal case information and document retrieval. CourtEXPRESS.com users are not required to install proprietary software and the system is available from anywhere twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Our login process requires only a user id and password.
Once a user launches a search, he or she can move on to more important tasks as opposed to staring at a screen. Our email notification lets users know as soon as each search is finished. We are currently testing functionality that will send out one email for multiple requests. CourtEXPRESS.com is optimized for Microsoft Internet Explorer 4 and Netscape 4 and higher.
We have been gratified with the positive response we have received from the law librarian community. The recent AALL Convention in Washington, DC was a wonderful event for us. Since introduction of CourtEXPRESS.com, major law firms, government agencies and leading companies from the beverage, insurance, investment, manufacturing, pharmaceutical and technology industries are using CourtEXPRESS.com each day. We will continue to add more functionality and more courts to the service so that information professionals throughout the country can focus on providing value-added services to their clients.
From: Donella Johnson < firstname.lastname@example.org> from Loeb & Loeb in Los Angeles
I am writing in response to the recent LLRX article on CourtExpress. While I agree that CourtExpress has some advantages over other docket retrieval systems, it also has some problems, including:
- No toll free customer service telephone number;
- Poor customer service hours for the West Coast users;
- No onsite training/demonstrations available in California;
- Poor court coverage for California — no 9th Circuit, no Central District Bankruptcy cases;
- An annoying message that pops up every time you conduct a business name search tellling you the results would be better if you entered a first name;
- A cumbersome login process;
- A cumbersome system for accessing docket information if you receive multiple hits for your query;
- A system which sends you an email every time a search is completed. This is bad if you are typing in a large number of searches. It would be better if you could turn the email feature on/off or if there was some kind of batch feature; and
- A system glitch that defaults back to showing results 1-50, if you try to return to your search result list using the back button. To avoid the problem, you have to click on 1-100 or whatever setting you have chosen in the left frame instead.