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When 8th Cir. Website, PACER Go Down, What's a Lawyer to Do?

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By Aditi Mukherji, JD on January 28, 2014 11:05 AM

You may have noticed that you couldn't access the Eighth Circuit's website last Friday. Rest assured, you're not alone.

Lawyers across the nation grappled with the massive outage. PACER went on the blink as well as uscourts.gov, most if not all federal court sites, and the federal court's public hub, according to The Washington Post.

What the heck happened and, more importantly, what should you do if it happens again?

What Happened?

Politico reported that a government source believed the outage was due to a "national cyberattack." But as the Post clarified, what the source probably meant was something more along the lines of a denial-of-service attack.

Following the Politico report, The Wall Street Journal reported that according to the FBI, the incident resulted from a technical error, not a cyberattack.

But the latest update from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts takes us back to the hack theory. The FBI previously chalked it up to an internal glitch, but is currently "reassessing" its initial analysis, which is likely code for "whoopsie-doodles-it-may-have-been-a-malicious-attack-after-all."

A purported group of hackers, dubbed the European Cyber Army, claimed responsibility on Twitter (@ECA_Legion) for the massive outage: "Government of the United States of America: We have taken the Liberty of Nuking your Court's Website! #Nuked >>>> USCourts.gov."

Regardless of whether the incident was caused by a glitch or a hack, what's an aggrieved lawyer to do should this happen again?

What to Do When Court Websites Go Down

The first step to troubleshooting a court site crash is checking whether the entire website is down or whether it's just your connection.

If the entire site it down and all you need is to find 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.

What makes this tool a little tricky is that you need the actual URL. Try obtaining the URL from a bookmark or Google search result. When the error message shows up (because, y'know, the site is down), copy the URL into the Wayback Machine.

Sadly, archived pages are often out of date. But on the upside, it's a useful tool for obtaining helpful (and more importantly, still current) court contact information.

As far as accessing content via private companies, you have dozens of sites at your disposal. For example, if you're on the hunt for case law, look no further than yours truly -- i.e., FindLaw's free collection of Cases and Codes.

For PACER and other password-protected pages, you're pretty much out of luck and will likely need to wait it out. If you're under a tight deadline, try getting in touch with the court to find out what your options are (e.g., good ol' paper filing or an extension until the servers are up and running again).

What did you do on Outage Day? Scream, cry, laugh hysterically, start your weekend early -- or all of the above? Let us know your story on Facebook at FindLaw for Legal Professionals.

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