Part important public resource, part anachronistic PDF filing cabinet, PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is outdated at best and downright primitive at worst. Admittedly, PACER has been a resource on which legal professionals have relied for over two decades and when it was new, it was indeed state-of-the-art. However, it has not kept pace with the driving force of technology, and the Courts have allowed the PACER platform to become a relic of an earlier Internet era. Powerful search tools, like Docket Alarm’s Federal Court search engine, give you the ability to search PACER dockets in a much more efficient and streamlined way.
Full Text Searching of the PACER Database Docket Alarm improves upon many of PACER’s shortcomings. One major issue with PACER is that it does not support full-text searching. Full-text search engines search every word in every document in a database to match your entered search criteria. Since the PACER platform was designed for finding only one case at a time, your search capabilities are limited to searching by party name, case number, filing date, and a few other specific fields. You are unable to enter information in a general search field and have the system search every document for phrases in your query. Thus, if you are unsure of exactly what you are looking for, there is a high probability of being unable to find relevant cases on PACER. This shortcoming in search capability is magnified by the fact that each Federal Court has a different version of the PACER software, leading to inconsistencies between interfaces. Docket Alarm supports full-text searching of the PACER database. You do not need to have specific information about the party names or the case number. You can type any identifying information in the Federal Court search field, including party names, attorney names, judges, keywords, phrases or questions and Docket Alarm’s Federal Court search engine will return relevant Federal cases. Another issue with PACER is the lack of meaningful ways to filter dockets and documents. The goal of any highly useful search platform is to give you a plethora of ways to narrow down your results, allowing you to find relevant information as quickly as possible. PACER makes this narrowing-down process very difficult. After entering a keyword into one of the PACER search fields, you are returned with a list of results that may only be filtered by year, court, court type office or case type. Again, PACER requires you to have very specific information about what you are looking for to successfully find meaningful results.
Docket Alarm, on the other hand, allows you to filter before your search by either dockets or individual documents, and also provides you with many specific filters and suggested sub-filters after results are returned, such as filtering by judge, by party name, by attorney name, nature of the suit, etc. Once you have selected a docket or document, you can also create a keyword filter of your choosing.
A further issue with the PACER platform is an inability to track dockets. Docket Alarm can alert attorneys every time there is a new development in the case they have selected to track. With case updates arriving in your inbox, you can easily stay abreast of the latest issues without having to waste time and effort searching PACER, ensuring important updates do not fall through the cracks. In addition to the above, the overall user-friendliness of PACER is incredibly low. Flaws in the platform’s UX design create unnecessary usability issues. Users are rerouted to different query search pages and category buckets after selecting a case, calling for many more clicks than necessary to accomplish a relatively simple task, such as viewing a docket or particular document. While more clicks may seem trivial, any person who has spent hours searching PACER knows that jumping through these hoops adds up to a lot of wasted time. Docket Alarm makes viewing whole dockets or individual documents, emailing, copying, printing, and tracking incredibly easy, by providing clear buttons and a clean design, requiring minimal steps to execute these essential tasks. With Docket Alarm’s Federal Court search engine, you have many tools at your disposal to maximize the usefulness of the PACER databases.