After you have received your search results
you can either retrieve the dockets and documents from the search
provider, or get them directly from the source. Many federal
district courts now offer direct access to litigation case
information and documents via the "Case Management/Electronic Case
Files" (CM/ECF) system, proprietary technology produced by the
federal government. With a Pacer account, attorneys can use all CM/ECF
databases to instantly access live docket sheets, document images,
and reports. (Some courts that have not yet converted to the CM/ECF
system offer document images services.)
Almost every state offers federal civil litigation documents online,
which can be quickly and inexpensively downloaded. The cost for
accessing most databases is eight cents
per page, with a pricing cap of $2.40 for
30 or more pages. Prior to January 1, 2004 this cap only applied to
document images, with the exception of transcripts, but now extends
to docket sheets and case specific reports as well.
Before you begin you will need a computer with a PDF reader, an
account with either CourtLink or CourtExpress, and a Pacer account.
To open an account for these services simply apply online at
CourtLink and ClearCase can search these case docket fields in
combination with full-text searching: dates filed, courts, nature of
suits, litigants, attorneys, law firms, judges, statutes, causes,
open, closed, or class action status. ClearCase also offers a
"demand amount" field for searching, and CourtLink allows you to
make a template for your criteria search, to speed future duplicate
Now that you are ready to start
your search, login to CourtLink or CourtExpress and enter data into
as many search fields as possible. In the full-text search field
enter the name of the document you are looking for such as "motion
to dismiss." An overly broad search will produce too many results to
look through, and limiting your search too much, such as only
searching a very small time frame, may not provide any results at
all. It may take a few tries to get the optimum results.
After you have obtained a comfortable number of case listings
fitting your criteria, review the dockets, because case listing
results display bare summary information. To look at the dockets you
will now need to either purchase them from CourtLink, CourtExpress,
or Pacer. An advantage of looking at the dockets with CourtLink or
CourtExpress is that your search "hits" from the fields you searched
will be highlighted on the docket. However, I prefer to view case
dockets in CM/ECF, Web Pacer, or Racer.
Downloading dockets and documents is significantly
faster and cheaper, and using the "edit," "find",
(or equivalent) browser function will allow you to
quickly search the text of the docket.
Next go to an appropriate CM/ECF, Web Pacer, or
Racer Web site and log in. Don't forget to enter the
client/matter or other reference for the bill. Pacer
databases do not require a client/matter, and bills
are only sent out quarterly. Select a case from your
previous search results, open and peruse the entries.
Assuming you find a document you would like to
download and read, how do you know it is well written?
By reading through the docket entries you should be able to
determine if the filing was ruled on and successful. Check to see
who wrote it and when. Was is it filed by Joe Schmo five years ago,
or last week by an attorney or firm who is a leader in their field?
Finally, to download documents simply click the linked docket entry
number on the left of the document description.
After confirming the fees for the download, your PDF viewer will
open and you will see the document. Once in your viewer, the
document can be printed, saved, e-mailed, etc. To get documents from
another case, open that docket, and repeat the download process.
After some practice you should be able to quickly locate and
download several precedent samples for your writing.
Armed with this technique of online docket searching and retrieval,
attorneys essentially have unlimited access to a quickly growing,
inexpensive precedent sample database.
advanced docket searching and the federal courts' increased use of
CM/ECF, finding samples for your writing is easier and more
productive than ever.
Reprinted with permission from
the July 2004 issue of Law Technology
News. The author updated the pricing information
that appears in the article.
© 2004 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further
duplication without permission is prohibited.