Free Alert Tool for the U.S. Courts of Appeals

Every other month, my firm library puts out a newsletter highlighting interesting developments and articles in the legal and intellectual property fields. Sometimes the articles I write showcase new search engines and other tools. I figure I have enough librarian-type friends who might also be interested in these tools that I can re-purpose some of my articles as blog posts.  Here is the first one:

CourtListener.com is an opinion search and alerting service for the thirteen Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. Currently, the site imports all precedential opinions issued by these courts, as well as the non-precedential opinions from all of the Circuit courts except the D.C. Circuit. The database is updated with new opinions daily by 5:10pm PST; custom alerts are sent out shortly thereafter.

The site supports fairly advanced Boolean commands allowing you to create a search for relevant documents. The result list is sorted chronologically with the most recent opinion first. Each result includes a Status notation which identifies the opinion as either Published/Precedential or Unpublished/Non-Precedential, allowing you to quickly assess an opinion’s authority. Clicking on the case title will take you to an HTML version of the opinion. Links are also available for a PDF version directly from the court, as well as a backup PDF hosted on CourtListener’s servers, useful in case the court’s web site has gone down.

In order to get alerts for new opinions matching your search criteria, you will need to register as a new user. You can designate your alerts to run daily, weekly, or monthly, and you can set the alert to turn off if you need to temporarily suspend the service. In addition to receiving the alert via e-mail, you can also create an RSS feed of your alert.

Please note, CourtListener was created as part of a master’s degree thesis project at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information and it is currently in Beta. Please also remember that its coverage only includes the Courts of Appeals and the Supreme Court; District Court decisions are not represented. In addition, date coverage varies greatly by court with some courts only going back to spring of 2010; therefore, the site will be most useful for notices of new opinions rather than as a search tool. See the site’s coverage page for more information about the opinions available for each court. It should not be relied upon for business-critical opinion alerts in its current iteration; however, as a current awareness tool, this can be a useful addition to your Free Legal Research Toolkit.