Courts' Sites Crashed: Troubleshooting When it Happens Again - Technologist
Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Courts' Sites Crashed: Troubleshooting When it Happens Again

On Friday, PACER stopped. And the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' website stopped. And many of the Circuit Courts of Appeals' sites crashed. It was a full-blown outage, first reported as a hack, then as a glitch, then again, as a hack.

Either way, somebody broke it.

Fortunately, it was Friday afternoon. Many of you probably didn't even notice. We barely did, and that was because we are on the West Coast, and were still open for business.

Still, a court site crash can be a major headache for you. What can you do about it next time?

Is it Me, or Is This Site Broken?

Sometimes, it really is just you.

To see if you are the only one having trouble accessing a website, check Is It Down Right Now or Down for Everyone or Just Me?.

Down for Everyone

Finding a single page

If you need a single publicly-accessible page, such as a case decision or the court's contact information, you can check the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine.

Unfortunately, you need the actual URL (web address). Try going to the page from a bookmark or Google search result, wait for the error message, and then copy the URL into the Wayback Machine.

It might work, though archived pages are often out of date. You can also see if another site has the content you need. (Case law, for example, is available on dozens of sites, FindLaw included.)

PACER and other password protected pages

This is pretty much impossible. You'll simply have to wait. If you are on a deadline, and the court's site is crashed, try contacting the court to see what remedies are available (like paper filing, or an extension until the servers are back up.)

Down for You

It might just be a problem with your Internet Service Provider (ISP). You have two options here: go to a free WiFi hotspot, such as a Starbucks, or, have a redundancy plan in place.

If you're in a major metropolitan area, a personal favorite backup plan is a FreedomPop wireless modem. We've reviewed their service before, but here's the gist: buy a cheap modem, get free 4G cellular data each month. (Note: since our initial review, the company has done away with the inactivity fee and made it much easier to sign up for the free service with no surprises.)

If FreedomPop isn't available in your area, another option is T-Mobile's free data plans for tablets, or going with a paid plan from your cell phone company.

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