Sunday, October 4, 2009

Keeping Up with the USSC

Today is the first Monday in October and that means it is time to become United States Supreme Court watchers. Not that we don't already do that. But, October is the time when we begin to pay even closer attention than usual.

And how to we begin to pay attention? How do we follow the Court? Staying current is always a problem for lawyers. We can read newspapers, listen to NPR, and watch the news on Fox television. But these generalized sources can be unsatisfactory. They do not give lawyers sufficient detail, analysis, or access to the primary documents to allow us to stay up to date.

If we are interested in one particular case we can, of course, set up an Westlaw or Lexis alert of some kind (and there are several kinds, all very effective). But if we want to follow the trends in the Court, see how the current Term of Court is progressing, or find about about issues that we might not have been aware of, we have to hew to some middle ground between popular media pablum and the laser-like and tunnel vision focus of RSS feeds.

Three ways of staying current with the general workings of the Court are immediately apparent.

First, there is the USSC website itself. Over the years this has been revised on several occasions. In fact, a new redesign appears to be in the works. The Court posts its own decisions its own docket calendar, short summaries of questions presented in pending cases and links to briefs and oral argument transcripts. Free.

Second, there is the BNA service, Supreme Court Today, a feature of US Law Week. BNA's product page is here. It is fair to say that Supreme Court Today is and has been the traditional current awareness service for the USSC; it continues to do a superlative job. Decisions are posted within minutes of filing and there are links to briefs and argument transcripts. There is also extensive analysis and summaries of pending cases. Law Week (into which Supreme Court Today is bundled) covers much more because it takes on the whole national legal environment.

Third, there is the relative newcomer - SCOTUS Blog with its direct links to SCOTUS Wiki. It also has analysis and summaries, full text decisions and briefs, and tracks the current docket. It also covers national law news. But it's free.

So which is better? If you are just interested in keeping track of the USSC which of these three will serve you best? Take a look and decide for yourself. This is a dark time for attorneys and the lure of free materials is strong. You may have to decide if your time is better served keeping current or in working on billable projects.

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