Dockets


Sometimes researchers need to see the official summary of proceedings taking place in a specific case in a specific court of law. Today, that summary, that docket sheet is available from many proprietary and free-of-charge digital repositories.

Each case has a docket number, and docket sheet and numerous documents recording each phase of the trial. The docket sheet and those specific documents can be located from a variety of sources. For example, each court house will provide access to the dockets of its current cases, the so-called open cases on line, from their web site. In addition, Legal Dockets Online will provide access to all freely available dockets, from state and federal cases. If you know the docket number of any case heard at a specific court house, you can get that docket sheet as well, by personally contacting that court's clerk and then archives.

As a result of the E-Government Act of 2002, PACER was created, and with it, free access to finding federal docket sheets of cases whose party name and court house you know. PACER is the acronym for Public Access to Court Electronic Records -- an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts. While the location of the documents is free-of charge, accessing each document through printing or downloading is not free.

BloombergLaw, Westlaw and Lexis all offer docket information which is at times more comprehensive than PACER's because all three companies offer messenger services which, upon request and for a high fee, can copy any docket-mentioned document upon request. In addition to federal dockets, Bloomberglaw's docket library also covers state dockets.





Case law


Federal and state case law is available from a variety of print and digital repositories, which are both proprietary and free of charge.

The most popular free-of-charge digital repository is Google Scholar, whose opinions are drawn from a series of sources, including Cornell’s LII, Public.Resource.Org and Justia (see, http://commonscold.typepad.com/commonscold/2009/11/google‐scholar‐posts‐cases‐.html), and a company whose name Google Scholar employees refuse to name, but most likely is the now defunct, AltLaw.

Google Scholar started including case law in 2009 -- see, http://thelifeofbooks.blogspot.com/2009/11/google-scholar-loj-where-did-google-get.html, although Google Scholar remains cryptic about its source of case law (hear 2009 conversation with Google Scholar on this topic http://goo.gl/V5Klf)

Reassuringly, Google Scholar also uses official sources, as Gail Warren of the Virginia State Law Library, recently recalled that the Virginia State court administrator's office prepared CD-ROMS for Google Scholar which included the cases corresponding to Virginia Reports, volume 141 through volume 219.


In addition to the repositories mentioned above, each court house will publish its most recent cases on line, in a manner hard to use unless you know the date, or the party name, or the docket number.

The three mega aggregates: Westlaw, Lexis and Bloomberg, remain the most popular repositories with those who can afford them, while alternative digital repositories, such as FastCase, Versuslaw, etc, mostly provided by state bar associations continue to be used by practitioners as well.