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July 2020 - Book Review - Internet Legal Research on a Budget
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Book Review: Judy K. Davis & Carole A. Levitt, Internet Legal Research on a Budget: Free and Low-Cost Resources for Lawyers (2d ed. 2020)

Rachel E. Green

Librarian & Lecturer in Law, UCLA School of Law

 

One of my colleagues once wrote: “The best legal reference books have a good beat and are easy to dance to; that is, their organization and usefulness are immediately apparent.”[1]  I remembered this line as soon as I started poring over Davis and Levitt’s Internet Legal Research on a Budget.  I could tell immediately from the organized and detailed Table of Contents that I was going to love this book – so much so that I agreed to write a review after seeing just that TOC!  As a librarian, lecturer, and sometimes lawyer (I still practice but only pro bono), I appreciate a legal research guide that can simultaneously appeal to librarians, students, and practitioners alike.

This book is exceptionally user-friendly.  Davis and Levitt do more than just list free or low-cost databases; they also walk you through how to search many of these databases efficiently, often offering step-by-step instructions and sometimes including screenshots.  The book is organized into 18 different chapters across the following five parts: general legal research, legal portals and directories, case law databases, additional research sources, and cite checking.  At 352 pages, I am still working my way through it all, and I am focusing this review on a particular area of interest for me: dockets and case documents (Chapter 15).

I have what some may consider an unreasonable love of case dockets, and yes, even PACER!  Clunky as PACER is, I think that the fact that we can obtain case filings from across the country at the click of a button – at the relatively low cost of $0.10/page – is absolutely incredible.  Our colleagues around the world rarely have this level of access to the filings in their court systems.  Having said that, we all know that fees can add up quickly, especially when multiple users at your firm or organization are checking the same docket repeatedly.  Paying for the same item a dozen times is always frustrating, but current circumstances have made it particularly important to avoid overspending.  Internet Legal Research on a Budget brings you the answer by directing you to free docket alternatives.  My personal favorite is RECAP (PACER spelled backwards).  If you have never used RECAP, I recommend downloading the browser extension here; even without the extension, you can search the RECAP Archive (through CourtListener) for free without an account here.

What does RECAP do?  When you have the RECAP extension installed and are using PACER, every docket or PDF you purchase on PACER will be added to RECAP’s archive; so each time you access new case dockets or filings on PACER, you are making the RECAP Archive stronger and more comprehensive.  Davis and Levitt point out that in addition to user contributions via the browser extension, the nonprofit that runs RECAP has also collected every free written order and opinion that is available on PACER.

Of course, RECAP is limited by its users’ own activity or lack thereof, but fear not!  When the item you need is not in the RECAP database and you need to use PACER after all, you can search more efficiently by following some of the search techniques discussed in Internet Legal Research on a Budget (for example, did you know that you can use truncation on PACER?!).  Find more tips and tricks by checking out Internet Legal Research on a Budget in the ABA’s shop.  I cannot promise anything, but it may just pay for itself in PACER fees alone!



[1] Linda Karr O’Connor, Best Legal Reference Books of 1996, 89 Law Libr. J. 265, 265 (1997).