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Free Law Project Now Hosts Searchable Opinions and Orders (free!)

The Free Law Project has announced that they have collected every free written order and opinion that is available in PACER, the online hosting source of federal court opinions and case documents. They are now available at free.law and are completely searchable. 

The Free Law Project reports that 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." The project required the scanning and implementing OCR for more than  "four hundred thousand of these documents . . .  amounting to nearly two million pages of text extraction."

This archive of opinions and orders is available for search here. In addition to common search categories (judge, nature of suit, etc.) it also has advanced search capabilities including field search, as well as proximity and fuzzy search capabilities. 

The Free Law Project estimates that the cost of obtaining that same content on a single user account would cost around $1 billion. More information about the costs of PACER, and the methodology used to recoup costs by the Administrative Office of the Courts, the federal organization that runs PACER is detailed in this fascinating blog post

It is worthwhile to note, however, that this amazing collection does not include all documents available through PACER. The Free Law Project has collected what have been designated by the courts as "opinions or orders," but this does not include pleadings, motions, responses, and briefs. Orders and opinions are defined to judges and clerks by the E-Government Act as "any document issued by a judge or judges of the court, sitting in that capacity, that sets forth a reasoned explanation for a court’s decision." Yet opinions may be misidentified as documents, and may be unintentionally excluded. 

Members of the Law Center community enjoy free access to all of PACER's documents through their Bloomberg Law subscriptions. Users may obtain any PACER document at no additional charge through the platform, which includes dockets and documents for many state courts as well.

If you are interested in learning more about PACER, the Free Law Project, or Bloomberg Law, stop by and visit our Reference Desk, where our reference librarians are available seven days a week. Hats off to the amazing work of the Free Law Project and all who work to provide us with better access to government information!


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