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There's a trend happening: Each federal circuit court of appeals is redesigning its website. Though all of the new sites are visually similar, and perhaps based on a common template or codebase, each has its own pros and cons.
Previously, I wrote a long, hateful rant about the Tenth Circuit's website. Little has changed -- it is still terrible. Most of the other circuit courts' redesigns have gone far more smoothly.
But what about the Fifth Circuit's shiny new website?
It looks good. And it doesn't contain my pet peeve about the Tenth Circuit's website: a failure to differentiate between published and unpublished opinions. (To clarify, the Tenth Circuit differentiates the two types of opinions only on its "Today's Opinions" page. Otherwise, you just get a long list of the week or month's opinions, with no way to filter out the unpublished dreck.)
In fact, the Fifth Circuit's opinions page (if you can find it -- see below) is one of the best at sorting and filtering recent opinions out there.
As for the overall site, I'm not usually a fan of hierarchical menus (the drop-down style) because they usually require you to use a mouse and hover over the menu items, making them impossible to use on a touch-based device, such as the vast majority of Windows 8.1 devices, iPads, and other smartphones and tablets. However, these menus work both with a mouse and with touch -- simply hover or tap the menu options on your touchscreen to activate them.
You Missed a Spot
Where, oh where, are the opinions? Let's see: The menu at the top has options for "About the Court," "Attorney Information," "Case Info and E-Filing," ... you get the point: No link to opinions. In fact, even in the drop-down menus, there are no links to the opinion page. To get to opinions, you have to look at the way bottom left of the page, in the Quick Links section:
New 5th Circuit Website: stop hiding your opinions from me! pic.twitter.com/D2vLkXbO5T-- William Peacock, esq (@PeacockEsq) November 10, 2014
That's not a deal breaker, and it's something that you can certainly get used to. But leaving a link to the court's published opinions out of the main menu hierarchy is definitely a design oversight, especially since most people start with the menu when they navigate your site. (Also, the other circuits all seem to have "Opinions" in the top menu.)
The other problem, which is not exclusive to the Fifth Circuit, is that the site is neither responsive nor mobile-friendly: It's a site built for desktop computers. Even the Fifth Circuit judges are using iPads at this point -- so why isn't your site "responsive" to different screen sizes? (For the non-tech inclined, try resizing your browser window to simulate a smaller screen -- this site does nothing. Try the same thing with the Tenth Circuit's website -- it's more dynamic.)
Sure, the vast majority of visitors to the court's website are going to be on good old-fashioned PCs and Macs, but if the Tenth Circuit can release a mobile-friendly website, you'd think the Fifth Circuit, six months later, could do the same.
Overall Verdict: Good, Not Great
The truth is, most court websites are awful. This one is not. Were it not for the responsive design oversight and the buried link to opinions, it would be near perfect.
And for those of us who follow the court's published work, the revamped opinions page, with separate sections for "published" and "unpublished" are super helpful. Well done.
What are your thoughts on the redesign? Tweet us @FindLawLP.