What’s in your Toolbox for using PACER for Empirical Research?

The following is a guest post by Beth E. Applebaum of the Arthur Neef Law Library at Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan.  I’m a big fan of Bloomberg Law’s docket search feature, but it does have limitations whether one has access via an academic or commercial contract, as Beth has discovered.  She writes:

Although Bloomberg, WL Dockets and CourtLink can be cost effective tools in retrieving Federal Court Dockets, we recently were reminded that they are not a reliable tool for conducting empirical legal research.

An experienced legal researcher, using appropriate search terms, had been assured by our Bloomberg Rep that “all PACER records were on Bloomberg.” Relying on that information, she used a keyword search to retrieve all filings of a specific motion.

Since PACER dockets on Bloomberg are not updated on a real-time basis, the results were significantly incomplete. According to our Rep, Bloomberg “sweeps” through PACER several times throughout the day to pull in new cases. Once the dockets are in the system, Bloomberg refreshes the civil dockets in U.S. District Courts and Chapter 11 Bankruptcies on a 30 day cycle. (Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 dockets are on a less frequent cycle). Otherwise, updates for specific cases must be requested by the user. The reason the dockets are not updated more frequently is a combination of costs to Bloomberg and “server traffic.”

As a result, a keyword search in Bloomberg will not generate comprehensive results. A time-consuming (and certainly not full-proof) two-step approach is to update all cases in a specific jurisdiction for a specific date range; then conduct the keyword search.

We have reviewed PacerPro, RECAP and Inforuptcy and it does not appear that they provide any better alternatives for empirical research. Our Bloomberg Rep has acknowledged that this issue has been raised by other legal professionals and that as of right now, Bloomberg is “not set up for that kind of
research.”

If you have developed other approaches or work-arounds to deal with these research issues, we’d certainly like to hear about them.

Beth may be contacted at as0941@wayne.edu.  If anyone else would like to add some thoughts to the blog, feel free to contact me. –Mark

One thought on “What’s in your Toolbox for using PACER for Empirical Research?

  1. Douglas A. Britton October 28, 2014 at 7:57 pm Reply

    So What’s in your Toolbox for using PACER for Empirical Research? So far as I can see, the articles offers no answers to the question.

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