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Empirical Legal Research & Bloomberg Law

One of the most exciting and most used features of Bloomberg Law is its access to court dockets. Bloomberg Law offers law school users the option of downloading federal court dockets and case filings directly from Bloomberg Law, saving users the costs associated with retrieving the items themselves on PACER. The same service is provided for state courts whose dockets and electronic filing systems allow for access by the public, and by extension Bloomberg Law. This vast array of data combined with the search features and alerts offered by Bloomberg Law is one of the product’s best features, and is a great “in” for users who may have otherwise ignored Bloomberg Law.

Whenever presented with a large amount of data from courts across the country that is easily searched, the notion of empirical legal research is bound to come up. And while Bloomberg Law may seem to have “everything,” upon further inspection this is not the case. Unlike PACER dockets, which update automatically, Bloomberg Law dockets are only updated either (1) on the request of the user, who clicks “update docket,” or (2) periodic docket refreshing. Beth Applebaum of the Arthur Neef Law Library at Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan reports that Bloomberg representatives confirmed this. Reportedly, Bloomberg Law sweeps through PACER several times a day to update new cases. Then, dockets are refreshed in U.S. District Courts and Chapter 11 Bankruptcies. To ensure the most recent information, users must send a docket update request.

One imperfect solution is to update all cases in a specific jurisdiction within a specific date range, and then keyword search the results. This approach is time-consuming, and far from foolproof. So far other products like RECAP, PacerPro, and Inforuptcy work under similar conditions, making them unsuitable for empirical research as well. This uncertainty is compounded by the court filings no longer available on PACER, as reported on Nota Bene previously. But now that people are noticing, and asking, perhaps in the coming years we will see product enhancement that will allow all the data-mining of an empirical legal researcher’s dreams.

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