Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

Picking up the PACER: New Tools, New Lawsuits

If you use PACER, the public court records access system, you've probably had your fair share of frustrations. To put it mildly, PACER is not the most user-friendly, intuitive, or even functional legal service around. It's not in the top 50.

But thankfully, new tools are making the system easier to stay on top of and use, while a class action lawsuit is looking to get you reimbursed for alleged overcharges. Here are some PACER updates that could make your practice run a bit more smoothly.

PACER Sucks, So They Fixed It

We don't need to detail the problems that PACER has, so we'll be brief: the interface is bad, searching for docs is cumbersome, and staying on top of cases can be difficult. Two third-party PACER products are making the system a bit more palatable though.

First, there's PacerPro. PacerPro has been around for a few years now. (FindLaw's Technologist blog said PacerPro was "what PACER should look and operate like," way back in 2014.) In addition to their case management dashboard and improved search features, the company has pushed out a host of new features in the last three months. These include access to district, bankruptcy, and appellate court documents, and litigant profiling.

Plus, PacerPro is inexpensive. A litigant profile with 2,800 cases would cost about $5, according to the company.

For court watchers, rather than lawyers, there's also Sqoop. Sqoop is a "data journalism site" that connects reporters, bloggers, and the like to important PACER documents -- though we could imagine some attorneys checking it out as well. The concept is simple: find a party of interest, create a "docket watch," and get quick notifications every time the docket is updated.

PACER Sucks, So They Sued It

Taking a different approach to PACER are the litigants in a recent class action against the system. While PACER is a "public access" system, it's not a free one. At ten cents a page -- a pretty high price for showing an electronic file -- PACER costs can pile up quickly when researching multiple, lengthy documents.

Now, a lawsuit alleges that not only is PACER costly, it overcharges. According to the lawsuit, filed recently in the Western District of Washington, PACER suffers from a "systemic billing error that overcharges users." The litigants brought in experts who found that, for some docket reports:

PACER uses a formula based on the number of bytes extracted, purporting to charge users $0.10 per 4,320 bytes. But the PACER system actually miscalculates the number of extracted bytes in a docket report, resulting in an overcharge to users.

The suit wants to recover those overcharges for all PACER users over the past six years. If that's you, and if the suit is successful, we'd suggest using that cash to invest in a better document service.

Related Resources: