Sunday, February 15, 2009

Federal District Court Briefs Online - For Free

As noted in yesterday's post, there is a movement afoot to allow more public access to federal district court civil case filings. This trend is of real benefit to legal researchers. One of the best sources and one of the least utilized sources of organized legal information are the briefs being filed in various courts. True, many briefs are available through Westlaw and Lexis but these have a price tag for access. And, access through PACER, the federal court database, can be costly and all too clunky.

How to access for free? Consider using They are compiling federal district court dockets and associated documents in many recent civil cases. Here is their portal to federal district court filings.

How to utilize this resource? Two ways come immediately to mind:
1. allows the researcher to browse by type of case and to limit the field of cases to a particular jurisdiction, even a particular judge. If you want Social Security disability insurance cases for the Southern District of New York its easy to do - just click on the categories to limit your search.

2. Find a recent case (the Justia database only goes back a few years) you think applies to your case. Determine the case name or docket number and then search to find the filings in that case.
You will have to be a little inventive. There is no full text searching for these filings using either PACER or Yet.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Access to Federal Court Files

As the NYTimes points out here, access to federal district court filings can be problematic if you are using PACER, the court's own document database. Readers of this blog, however, will recall from a previous entry that at least some court filings are now being made available through

The issue raised by the NYT piece is not just "access" but the public's right to access. PACER costs to use and the search engine is so clunky as to make it almost impossible to find what you want. Will there be a change in the government's attitude to public access to public documents? After all, those court filings are public records. For more on the debate see this entry in the Lede Blog.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Black Swan Theory - CRS Reports

Congressional Research Service reports are widely considered some of the best sources of unbiased information available from the United States government. The reports are compiled by the research arm of the Library of Congress.

Here's one of the latest efforts from CRS. A capsule summary of the roots of the current economic situation. The 8 page report sets out 26 reasons why we are where we are today. The most intriguing may be item #26 itself - The Black Swan Theory - a once in a century confluence of multiple factors so unlikely as to be unpredictable. As with all CRS reports there are plenty of citations to relevant material including a cite to an article titled "Black Swan or Fat Turkey?"