PACER, your favorite tool for getting federal court documents, may not be your favorite for long.
CourtListener, a service of the Free Law Project, now offers every free written order and opinion that is available on PACER. And unlike the court's preferred provider, CourtListener does not require a user account with the typical conditions.
The service does not replace PACER, but it makes research a lot easier and cheaper. The Free Law Project also threw in a bonus: a legal scraping toolkit.
The Free Law Project has been crawling over PACER for a year, collecting web-based information to build its collection of 3.4 million documents and 1.5 million federal district and bankruptcy cases dating back to 1960.
"Today's news represents a huge milestone for the project and moves the project into a new stage where we're not only focused on people's experience while using PACER, but we're now also focused on providing data to startups, researchers, journalists, lawyers, and the public via our website," Michael Lissner, executive director of the Free Law Project, told the ABA Journal.
In addition, the non-profit organization released a new version of its open source tool for scraping PACER data. It will help developers and researchers scrape information from all major, federal appellate courts and state supreme courts.
With a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, two professors from Georgia State University helped the project in the course of their studies on employment law. Charlotte Alexander said they wanted to make the data available to the public.
Free With Benefits
Alexander said that if a commercial service had been used to research cases, they would have been able to use the data for their project only. By using CourtListener, she explained that anyone can access the information without the "restrictive terms and conditions" of for-profit legal search vendors.
While building the database, the Free Law Project discovered a PACER flaw that made it possible for hackers to access court documents and charge it to other user accounts.
After the Free Law Project reported the problem in February, the Administrative Office of the Courts addressed the issue even though Public Affairs Officer David Sellers said it wasn't really a problem.
"The only potential vulnerability was that a user's bill could be incorrectly increased," he said. "That never occurred. In fact, there is no evidence that the vulnerability has ever been exploited."