CourtListener Now Offering PACER Docket Alerts

By Eric Taylor, Reference Librarian

The Free Law Project recently announced the availability of PACER Docket Alerts on CourtListener.com.  CourtListener is a free public access website tracking federal and state courts.  The Docket Alert tool will send you an email anytime there is a new court filing in a case you are following in PACER.  Access to PACER documents is provided by the website’s RECAP function.  Clicking on the RECAP Archive link allows users to search for available PACER filings.

Setting up Docket Alerts using CourtListener is simple (quoting the Free Law Project’s press release):

“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.”

Give it a try.  I did with U.S. v. Manafort and the Docket Alerts started flowing in the very first day the alert was set, and they just keep coming.

The primary source powering these alerts is RSS data provided by PACER websites.  However, not all courts have RSS feeds yet.  So another very important source is the docket information contributed by RECAP users.  Attorneys and others who download documents from the PACER system using their paid accounts can participate by installing the RECAP Extension to then upload these same documents to CourtListener’s RECAP Archive.  To date, 37M PACER docket entries have been uploaded to the RECAP Archive which includes 6.5M searchable PDFs.  The RECAP Archive continues to grow with the addition of over 100,000 docket entries and 2000 PDFs every day.

The value of CourtListener goes well beyond RECAP and PACER.  CourtListener also provides a free searchable archive of over 4M court opinions with more being added by the day.  They also have one of the largest collections of oral arguments available on the Internet.  Their coverage page breaks down the figures and services in greater detail.

There really is no other legal website like it.  As the courts continue to charge the public fees for access to PACER, the Free Law Project practices what they call PACER Advocacy to bring these documents out into the light for the world to see for free.

Access to free PACER Docket Alerts is not unlimited, however.  Any user can monitor five dockets for free.  Those who install the RECAP Extension will get an additional ten docket alerts.  Users who make monthly contributions to the Free Law Project can make as many alerts as they need (within a reasonable limit).  The current suggested minimum monthly donation is five dollars per month.

 

What if There Were TurboTax, but for Appellate Briefs? (Guess What- There Is!)

Formatting appellate briefs is tough- there’s no getting around it. Brief-writers, be they attorneys or pro se litigants, have to pay very close attention to specific formatting details like margins, font, citations, headings, etc. If briefs are submitted to the court of appeals clerk’s office and they do not meet the stringent requirements, they are rejected.

Luckily, the State Bar of Wisconsin Appellate Practice Section recently created a tool called the Brief Assistant to help out. The Brief Assistant is an app which “allows the user to draft a correctly formatted initial brief, response brief, or reply brief that can be downloaded, saved, edited, and then filed in an appeal.”

In order to use Brief Assistant, the user simply creates a free account, selects which type of brief to create, then answers basic questions asked by the app (similar to how TurboTax works), which populates the brief. Brief Assistant will also provide users with tips for writing the required sections of the brief.

Brief Assistant can be a useful tool for lawyers, paralegals, legal secretaries, and pro se litigants- it even has two different tracks- one for legal professionals, and one for pro se litigants- the one for pro se litigants provides sample model briefs so that the user can see what the finished project should look like.

You can read more about Brief Assistant here.

Instantly Create and Share a Bibliography with ZoteroBib – Even in Bluebook

When I’m writing a document or article and I need to manage a bunch of citations, my go-to tool is Zotero.  It’s an incredibly powerful citation manager that helps you collect, organize, cite, and share research – and it’s open source which means that it’s free!  Zotero is perfect for large research projects where you’re researching over a period of days, weeks, months, etc.  It supports thousands of citation styles, including Bluebook.

Zotero

But sometimes you just want to create a quick and dirty list of citations.  If you’re looking to just cite a few sources, EasyBib is not a bad choice.  They teach kids to use it in elementary school.

EasyBib

 

You enter in a url, isbn, etc. to create citations one-by-one in several styles.  It takes multiple clicks to generate a citation.  Then you copy and paste each one individually into your document.  It’s also free but is riddled with ads.

But now there is ZoteroBib – a new free, tool from the makers of Zotero.  It’s like EasyBib but quicker, more powerful, and sans the obnoxious ads.  As you’re researching, just enter in your url, isbn, doi, etc., and click cite.  It automatically grabs the citation and adds it to your list in just one click.  Like Zotero, it supports Bluebook and many other citation styles.  And ZoteroBib works on any device.

ZoteroBib

 

Once you’ve finished compiling your list of sources, you can export your complete bibliography to your clipboard and paste into your document.  Or you can easily share your list of sources by creating a link to your bibliography with a single click.   This could be a very easy way for librarians to share a list of sources with faculty, etc.

ZoteroBib Export

 

From the Zotero Blog:

Powered by the same technology behind Zotero, ZoteroBib lets you seamlessly add items from across the web — using Zotero’s unmatched metadata extraction abilities — and generate bibliographies in more than 9,000 citation styles. There’s no software to install or account to create, and it works on any device, including tablets and phones. Your bibliography is stored right on your device — in your browser’s local storage — unless you create a version to share or load elsewhere, so your data remains entirely under your control.

News on the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau

A recent article from Madison’s local newspaper, The Isthmus, outlines some significant cuts to the staff and services of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau, particularly in the LRB research and library services department.

For example, the article cites a reduction in the number of “plain language” reviews of laws or court cases from 27 in 2014 to 11 last year. The number of reports produced by the LRB has also fallen in recent years from 22 in 2014, 16 in 2015, 5 in 2016, 1 in 2017, and none so far in 2018.

See the article for more information about the cuts as well as a bit of history of the LRB in Wisconsin.

Book Review- Table for 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes

Brand new for your reading leisure!  This delightful book takes you way behind the scenes of the Supreme Court, and spotlights the culinary traditions that have been a part of the institution since its first session in 1790.

From cover to cover readers will be rewarded with recipes, wonderful photos, and stories brimming with history.  The author Clare Cushman, who is the Supreme Court Historical Society’s publication director, chronicles a very human side of the Justices.  Admittedly, not all their recipes or dietary habits are exactly appetizing, but there’s no accounting for taste.  The First Chief Justice, John Jay (1789-1795), liked oysters for breakfast, and there’s a recipe for scrambled eggs and oysters if that’s your thing (p.97).  Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson (1941-1954) enjoyed cowslip sandwiches for lunch (p.124).  Who knew?  Now you do.

Many of the Justices brought their lunches to work.  For Samuel A. Alito Jr. (2006-) it’s leftovers from home.  Word has it his wife is a wonderful cook.  Benjamin Cardozo (1932-1938) brought a slice of cake every day for lunch, but the other Justices teased him and he stopped bringing it (p.16).

This next one is sure to bring a laugh.  There was a time in the late nineteenth century when oral arguments were heard five days a week from noon to 4:00 p.m.  With no break for lunch, it was not uncommon for one or two of the Justices to leave their seats and slip behind the bench to take a bite.  The audience could not see them, but they could distinctly hear “the rattle of knives and forks.”  One day an advocate complained to Chief Justice Melville W. Fuller (1888-1910) that there was no quorum present.  The Chief Justice reassured him: “Although you may not see them…there are two Justices present who can hear the argument, and you may proceed.”  After many complaints, a formal lunch break was instituted from 2:00-2:30 p.m. (pp.13-15).

And how about this “A dietitian, Maryan Stevens has been credited with her husband John Paul Stevens’ longevity on the bench: he sat from 1975-2010 and was the third-longest serving Justice in history when he retired at age 90” (p.106).  His preferred lunch happens to be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the crusts cut off (p.16).

There’s an entire chapter on Birthday Traditions, and does that pineapple coconut cake ever look good!  This would be Bill’s Birthday Cake by Natalie “Nan” Cornell Rehnquist (pp.54-55).  Another delightful chapter features Justices in the Kitchen.  Thurgood Marshall’s (1967-1991) grandmother taught him to cook although he tended not to follow recipes.  Sandra Day O’Connor (1981-2006) loved to cook and entertain.  She worked hard to revive the tradition of the Justices eating lunch together which had waned over the years.

There is so much to appreciate about this book, but you must really see it for yourself to take in its full impact.  Many of the photographs look good enough to eat, while others present the Justices as regular people enjoying the company of good food and friends.  The stories and captions that go along with them make for a wonderful hearty stew.  Bon Appétit!

This book is located in our library stacks, call number KF8742. C875 2017.

This post was written by our Evening Reference Librarian, Eric Taylor.

CRS Reports to be Made Publicly Available

Under a provision of the 2018 omnibus appropriations act that was passed by Congress and signed by the President earlier this month, all non-confidential Congressional Research Service  reports must be made publicly available online within 90 to 270 days.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the non-partisan public policy research arm of the United States Congress.  They produce analytical, non-partisan reports on topics of interest to members of Congress.  Because of their high quality, CRS reports are excellent resources for legislative or public policy research.

Until now, there had been no comprehensive, official public online source that provided access to this government information.  Under the new policy,  approximately 3,000 non-classified reports will be released annually.

For more information, see these articles from Demand Progress, Federation of American Scientists, and Government Executive.

In Memory of Margo Melli

The Wisconsin Lawyer recently published a wonderful article celebrating the life and career of UW Law School Professor Emerita Margo Melli, who passed away on January 6, 2018.

Prof. Melli graduated at the top of her UW law class in 1949, and eventually became the first female tenure-track law professor in the history of the UW Law School.

As the article states, she was a “trailblazer” for women lawyers in Wisconsin and will certainly be missed.

Steve Barkan honored by Wisconsin Law Journal for Leaders in Law Lifetime Achievement

In yesterday’s post, we were happy to announce Bonnie Shucha as the new Law Library Director of the UW Law School Library, taking over for the retiring Steve Barkan.

On February 15th, the Cover of WI Law JournalWisconsin Law Journal held their annual award ceremony honoring Leaders in Law. In addition to the 23 annual winners, Prof. Barkan was the recipient of  the Wisconsin Law Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award along with Judge John Dimotto. The ceremony was held at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee.

Prof. Barkan is retiring from the UW Law School after 23 years of service. Before joining the UW Law Faculty, Prof. Barkan worked at Marquette Law School, making him the only person who has been a tenured faculty member at both UW and Marquette Law. For more about Steve’s incredible career, check out his profile from the Wisconsin Law Journal’s award issue. 

It goes without saying that the UW Law Library, UW Law School and the legal community in general will miss Prof. Barkan. Thank you for all your dedicated years  of teaching, supervising, overseeing, collaborating and mentoring!

Group photo from UW Law
Prof. Steve Barkan and UW Law Colleagues at the Wisconsin Law Journal Awards Ceremony on February 15th.

Bonnie Shucha named the new UW Law Library Director

Sometimes we get to post really great news. In that vein, it is with great pleasure that I announce that Bonnie Shucha, the creator of WisBlawg, has been appointed the Law School’s Associate Dean for Library and Information Services and Director of the Law Library.  Her appointment, which followed a national search, took effect February 6.
Bonnie Shucha
Ms. Bonnie Shucha

Bonnie joined the Law Library staff in 1999.  She has served as our Reference and Electronic Services Librarian, Head of Reference, Assistant and then Associate Director for Public Services, and most recently Deputy Director.  Her professional accomplishments are extensive, and she has been an active participant in local and national  library activities and associations.  
 
Bonnie is taking over for Steve Barkan, who will be retiring this spring.  Steve, the UW Law School’s Voss–Bascom Professor of Law and Director of the Law Library, joined our Law School faculty in 1995.  He has also held library positions at Marquette Law School, the University of TX at Austin School of Law, the US Supreme Court, and the University of Southern California Law School.
Steve Barkan
Mr. Steve Barkan

Among many other activities, Steve taught Torts I and Torts II for many years.  He is chair of the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners, and he has served on numerous ABA site visits.   He is a co-author/editor of Fundamentals of Legal Research and founding editor of Perspectives.  He will be receiving a Wisconsin Law Journal Leaders in Law Lifetime Achievement Award later this month.
 
Congratulations to Bonnie on her new position and to Steve on his upcoming retirement.