Opening Up the Federal Court System, One Filing at a Time

Anyone who has spent even a few minutes looking for case documents in the federal courts knows what a crusty old system the federal government provides for searching and accessing filings in U.S. district courts and some federal circuit courts.  While these court records are ostensibly public, the sheer hassle of getting to them renders the documents largely inaccessible.  That is about to change, in a big way. 

The folks over at Princeton's Center for Information Technology Policy, along with Berkman's own Steve Schultze, just released a plugin for Firefox (you are using Firefox to read this post, right?) that begins to set these documents free, one motion to dismiss at a time.  Here is how the developers at Recap describe it:

RECAP users automatically donate the documents they purchase from PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) into a public repository hosted by the Internet Archive. And RECAP saves users money by alerting them when a document they are searching for is already available from this repository. RECAP also makes other enhancements to the PACER experience, including more user-friendly file names.

We are heavy users of PACER (and its state-court analogs), relying on it daily to collect information on the lawsuits we cover in our legal threats database.  As early beta testers for Recap, we had the opportunity to put it to the test and saw no problems at all.  It's not only unobtrusive and light on system resources, but it actually makes research easier by automatically inserting the court id and docket number into the file name for documents you save.

If you spend any time doing research on PACER, go install the plugin now.


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