Uploading PACER Dockets and Oral Argument Recordings to the Internet Archive

At Free Law Project, we collect a lot of legal information. In our RECAP initiative, we collect (or are donated) around one hundred thousand items from PACER every day. Separately, in our collection of oral argument recordings, we have gathered more than 1.4 million minutes of legal recordings — more than anywhere else on the web. All of this content comes from a variety of sources, and we merge it all together to make a searchable collection of PACER dockets and a huge archive of oral argument recordings.

Part of our mission at Free Law Project is to share this information and to ensure its long-term distribution and preservation. A great way to do that is to give it to a neutral third party so that no matter what happens, the information will always be available. For years, we have been lucky to partner with the Internet Archive for this purpose and today we are pleased to share two pieces of news about how we give them information. more ...


Announcing PACER Docket Alerts for Journalists, Lawyers, Researchers, and the Public

Make Alerts Now

Today we are thrilled to announce the general availability of PACER Docket Alerts on CourtListener.com. Once enabled, a docket alert will send you an email whenever there is a new filing in a case in PACER. We started CourtListener in 2010 as a circuit court monitoring tool, and we could not be more excited to continue expanding on those roots with this powerful new tool.

The best way to get started with Docket Alerts is to just make one. Try loading a popular case like U.S. v. Manafort or The District of Columbia v. Trump. Once the case is open, just press the “Get Alerts” button near the top. Then, just wait for your first alert.

We believe PACER Docket Alerts will be a valuable resource to journalists, researchers, lawyers, and the public as they grapple with staying up to date with the latest PACER filings.

Our goal with docket alerts is to make them as simple as possible to use. Once you have found a case you are interested in, a single click is all it takes to turn on an alert for that docket. From then on, we will send you an email …

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An Overview of Free Law Project

A few weeks ago I had the privilege and the pleasure of speaking at the Michigan Association of Law Librarians (MichALL) annual conference. The talk I gave was an overview of Free Law Project and all of our projects, initiatives, and advocacy. Here are the slides from that presentation.

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The Next Version of RECAP is Now Live

The original RECAP extension for Firefox was launched eight years ago. Today we launch an all new version. Since the original launch in 2009, we’ve kept the system running smoothly, added a Chrome extension, and — with your help — collected and shared information about tens of millions of PACER documents.

Today we’re announcing the future of RECAP. If you’re an existing Firefox or Chrome user, you should automatically get this update over the next 24 hours. If you’re a new user, just learning about RECAP, you can find links for Firefox or Chrome on the right, and you can learn more on the RECAP homepage.

As this new system rolls out, these are the big changes:

  1. As you’re using PACER, the extensions will stop providing links to the Internet Archive, and will instead provide links to CourtListener and the RECAP Archive, where dockets and documents are fully text searchable.

  2. Links to CourtListener will be available very soon after an upload from PACER is complete — possibly within seconds or minutes. This has been the most-requested enhancement we’ve heard over the years, and we’re really happy to be bringing this …

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We Have Every Free PACER Opinion on CourtListener.com

Free Opinion Report Dropdown

At Free Law Project, we have gathered millions of court documents over the years, but it’s with distinct pride that we announce that we have now completed our biggest crawl ever. After nearly a year of work, and with support from the U.S. Department of Labor and Georgia State University, we have collected every free written order and opinion that is available in PACER. To accomplish this we used PACER’s “Written Opinion Report,” which provides many opinions for free.

This collection contains approximately 3.4 million orders and opinions from approximately 1.5 million federal district and bankruptcy court cases dating back to 1960. More than four hundred thousand of these documents were scanned and required OCR, amounting to nearly two million pages of text extraction that we completed for this project.

All of the documents amassed are available for search in the RECAP Archive of PACER documents and via our APIs. New opinions will be downloaded every night to keep the collection up to date.

The RECAP Archive now has more than twenty million documents.

With this additional collection, the RECAP Archive now has information about more than twenty million PACER documents.

As a backup and permanent repository, we are continuing our partnership with the Internet …

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More Details on the PACER Vulnerability We Shared with the Administrative Office of the Courts

PACER Logo

PACER/ECF is a system of 204 websites that is run by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AO) for the management of federal court documents. The main function of PACER/ECF is for lawyers and the public to upload and download court documents such as briefs, memos, orders, and opinions.

In February we reported that we disclosed a major vulnerability in PACER/ECF to the AO. The proof of concept and disclosure/resolution timeline are available here.

We are pleased to share that this issue is now properly addressed, and that we are now able to report more details about it. Throughout the process of researching, disclosing, and resolving this vulnerability, the AO has been prompt and professional, something that we greatly appreciate given the considerable constraints and complexities they are facing. However, despite their skill in dealing with this issue, after discovering it we have lingering concerns about the security of PACER/ECF on the whole.

In this post, we discuss three topics. First, we outline what the vulnerability was and how to identify if you were a victim of it. Second, we discuss why the vulnerability is troubling for a system of PACER/ECF’s size and …

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A Million Minutes of Oral Arguments

Today, we’re celebrating another milestone. We now have more than a million minutes of oral argument audio in CourtListener.com’s oral argument archive. All of this audio is available in our search engine, APIs, podcasts, and our website.

A million minutes of oral argument audio is a lot, so it helps to contextualize it. This is nearly 700 days of continuous oral argument audio from nearly thirty thousand cases. Put another way, listening to this entire collection would take as long as watching every episode of The Simpsons 76 times.

We have had a lot of success with our oral argument archive, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide it at no cost, despite its size growing every day.

In the coming months we will continue expanding this collection in two key ways. First, we plan to begin automatically generating transcripts for audio files so that you can get an email alert any time certain words are said in court. Second, we plan to continue expanding our coverage so that it includes more state courts, and so that it includes all of the federal courts that have recordings available.

Between these two initiatives, we will continue …

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A Complete Chronology of PACER Fees and Policies

Today, the PACER system contains millions of court filings for the federal district, circuit, and bankruptcy courts, most of which are sold at a dime per page with a three dollar cap per document. But content in PACER was not always priced this way, and indeed the PACER system goes back all the way to the early 1990’s, before computers were generally connected to the Internet.

Fees for using PACER are set by the Judicial Conference of the Administrative Office of the Courts, which scrupulously keeps notes from its bi-annual proceedings going back to its creation in 1922. In this post, we have gone through all of the relevant proceedings, and we present what we believe is a complete history of PACER fees and changes.

During the 27 year history outlined below, technology has changed significantly, and the Administrative Office of the Courts has done its best to keep up. Over the years, PACER has offered a variety of ways to get court information. These include a 1-900 number, a search service available via a regular phone call, the ability to connect your own computer directly to the courts’, and the websites that we know today.

But regardless of …

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We’ve Added Thousands More Citations to Historical Supreme Court Opinions

We have a small update to share today, as we’ve wrapped up adding thousands of historical Supreme Court citations to our collection. These are the original citations for the Supreme Court from 1754 to 1874, from before when the United States Reports had begun. Previously we had many of these citations, but as of today we can say we have historical citations for our entire SCOTUS collection.

For the unfamiliar, Supreme Court citations were originally named after the Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court from the time the opinion was published. For example, the first person to do this was Alexander Dallas, and his citations start at 1 Dall. 1 (1754), and go forward to 4 Dall. 446 (1806). After Dallas came a long line of other reporters, each of whom named their series of books after himself until 1875, when congress began appropriating money for the full time creation of these reporters and demanded they be called the “United States Reports.”

18 Stat. 204 (1874)

A snapshot of 18 Stat. 204 (1874), which allocated $25,000 to the Supreme Court for printing (about $557,100 today).

At that time, 91 U.S. 1 was the first case to be born with …

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Why We Are Downloading all Free Opinions and Orders from PACER

PACER Logo

Today we are launching a new project to download all of the free opinions and orders that are available on PACER. Since we do not want to unduly impact PACER, we are doing this process slowly, giving it several weeks or months to complete, and slowing down if any PACER administrators get in touch with issues.

In this project, we expect to download millions of PDFs, all of which we will add to both the RECAP Archive that we host, and to the Internet Archive, which will serve as a publicly available backup.1 In the RECAP Archive, we will be immediately parsing the contents of all the PDFs as we download them. Once that is complete we will extract the content of scanned documents, as we have done for the rest of the collection.

This project will create an ongoing expense for Free Law Project—hosting this many files costs real money—and so we want to explain two major reasons why we believe this is an important project. The first reason is because there is a monumental value to these documents, and until now they have not been easily available to the public. These documents are a critical …

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Parties, Attorneys, and Firms are Now Searchable in the RECAP Archive

Today we are launching party, attorney, and firm search for the RECAP Archive of PACER documents. This unlocks powerful new ways to do your research.

For example, consider the following queries:

Click any of the above queries to see how they were made.

To use this new feature, type the name of the party or attorney into the fields on the RECAP Archive homepage or in the sidebar to the left of any search results. These boxes also accept advanced query syntax, and there are several new fields that can be queried from the main search box including party, attorney, and firm.

For example, in the main box you can search for attorney:”eric holder”~2 firm:covington. This query shows the cases where the attorney has the word “Eric” within two words of “Holder” (thus allowing his middle name) which were handled at the firm “Covington & Burling”.

Demo of Eric Holder at Covington & Burling

A search for Eric X Holder while …

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Free Law Project has Notified the Administrative Office of the Courts about a Major Security Vulnerability in the PACER/ECF System

Recently, as part of our routine business practices, we discovered what we believe is a major vulnerability in the PACER system of websites that we believe affects both the electronic case filing and public access portals.

At this time, as part of a responsible disclosure process, we have notified the appropriate parties at The Administrative Office of the Courts, the agency that runs PACER. According to industry norms, we have given them a broad 90 day window to resolve the vulnerability.

After the 90 days are up or the issue is resolved, we plan to publish the details of what we discovered, the ramifications of the discovery, and the solution that they have put in place, if any.

Further questions about the vulnerability can be directed to our contact form where you can find our GPG key, if needed.

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Free Law Project to Serve as PACER Data Provider to Department of Labor Grantees at Georgia State University

EMERYVILLE, CA — Free Law Project is proud to announce that it has been selected by researchers at Georgia State University to provide PACER data for their research on employment misclassification lawsuits. The purpose of their research is to gain an understanding of how courts distinguish between employees and independent contractors, and the factors influencing those decisions across federal jurisdictions. This research will be funded by a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, and will be conducted by primary researchers Charlotte S. Alexander and Mohammad Javad Feizollahi of Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business.

Free Law Project’s role in this grant will be to acquire court opinions and orders from PACER, and to provide them to Alexander and Feizollahi for their research. Because PACER is not optimized for automated access, a key outcome of the grant will be to develop tools and infrastructure to enable other researchers to utilize PACER data through future grants.

PACER data is too difficult for researchers to access, and it’s high time that a centralized service be created by a non-profit to gather this kind of data for researchers,” says Michael Lissner, Founder and Executive Director of …

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Roundup of House Judiciary Committee’s PACER Review

HJC Seal

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on the topic of the “the effectiveness of the PACER service and use of audio and video recordings of courtroom procedures.” Three witnesses were invited by the committee to speak at the hearing, including our board member, Thomas Bruce, who spoke at length on the topic of reforming the PACER system. His written testimony can be found here.

Bruce framed his testimony by providing an overview of the things that PACER is and is not. In his words, these are the characteristics that define PACER:

  1. First, PACER charges fees for access to public records.
  2. Second, PACER became outmoded two years after it was built, and in some ways has never caught up.
  3. Third, PACER suffers from a split personality. On one hand, it is an electronic filing and case management system that supports the Federal courts […]On the other […] it is a data publishing system that offers the work of the Federal courts, both documents and metadata, to a very wide range of people[…]

And these are the things, in his words, that it is not:

  1. It is not transparent in its business model or operations.
  2. PACER is not an adequate facility …
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Free Law Project Makes Emoluments Clause Opinions Searchable in its Collection of Attorney General Advisory Opinions

Sign at the entrance of the OLC office

Free Law Project is proud to share that in our effort to create the most complete online collection of opinions, today we added 24 Attorney General advisory opinions relating to the Emoluments Clause and dating from 1952 to 2009. Attorney General advisory opinions are written by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, and provide legal advice to the President and all the Executive Branch agencies.

The opinions we added today were made available to Politico in 2012 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, and were recently published on their website. Included in the opinions is a range of advisory guidance on topics ranging from whether Nixon could accept anonymous donations to pay for his taxes to whether President Obama could accept the Nobel Peace Prize.

As with all of the opinions on CourtListener, we have completed OCR on these opinions, and their contents are immediately available for search, bulk download, and via our APIs. Free Law Project is proud to include these in CourtListener.com’s collection of over 1,000 Attorney General advisory opinions, making it the most complete collection of Attorney General advisory opinions available.

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Judge Profiles on CourtListener Now Show Oral Arguments Heard

We’re proud to share that we’ve now linked together our database of judges and our database of oral argument recordings. This means that as of now if you look at the profile page for a judge, you may see a list of oral argument recordings for cases that judge heard.

For example, on the page for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there is a new section that looks like this:

Example screenshot of RBG

Ginsburg has participated in hundreds of oral arguments that we have in our system.

Clicking on the button at the bottom takes you back to our database of oral argument recordings where you can further refine your search. If the judge is active, there is an icon in the upper right that lets you subscribe to a podcast of the cases heard by that judge. At this time, these features are only available for the Supreme Court and for jurisdictions where the judges for specific cases are provided by the court website. We hope to expand this in the future.

To our knowledge, a linkage like this has never previously existed on any system, and we hope that it will make research and exploration faster and easier for our users …

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Free Law Project Receives “Le Hackie” Award from D.C. Legal Hackers for PACER Research and Blogging

On Tuesday we were proud and humbled to receive a Le Hackie award from the D.C. Legal Hackers group for a top ten legal hack of the year:

The “hack” that we received this award for was our series of blog posts about PACER:

And our older pieces:

D.C. Legal Hackers is an amazing group, and we’re really proud to get this award from them.

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CourtListener Oral Argument Podcasts Now on iTunes

iTunes Logo

Just a quick post today to share that our oral argument podcasts are now available on iTunes.

If you are a user of iTunes, you can easily subscribe to our podcasts by opening iTunes and searching for “Free Law Project” or “oral arguments.” Once you subscribe, the podcasts will download to iTunes wherever you use it.

These podcasts contain all of the oral argument audio for a given court or for a search that you create. This means that as of this moment, you can pipe the audio from the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Courts directly to your pocket with almost no effort.

To learn more about creating custom podcasts or about the podcasts that we already have, we’ve created a page on our site with all the details. It also has information about how to subscribe using Google Music, Stitcher Radio, and other apps.

We hope you’ll enjoy these podcasts. Who doesn’t want the Supreme Court in their pocket?

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Free Law Project Re-Launches RECAP Archive, a New Search Tool for PACER Dockets and Documents

After months of development, we are thrilled to share a from-scratch re-launch of the RECAP Archive. Our new archive, available immediately at https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/, contains all of the content currently in RECAP and makes it all fully searchable for the first time. At launch, the collection contains information about more than ten million PACER documents, including the extracted text from more than seven million pages of scanned documents.

RECAP Advanced Search Screen

The new advanced search interface for the RECAP Archive.

The search capabilities of this new system empower researchers in new ways. For example:

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Downloading Important Cases on PACER Costs More than a Brand New Car

By now most readers of this blog know that PACER brings in a lot of money by selling public domain documents at a dime per page. What people might not realize is how these costs can add up for individual researchers or journalists. Looking through our database, we realized that we have quite a few really big cases.

All of the cases below have more than ten thousand entries that we know about.1 There are some names you might recognize:

At the top of the above list is the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy case …

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