Vanderbilt Law School Professor, Cat Moon, doesn’t just have one of the coolest names in the legal industry, she also brings insights and a perspective on the human element of legal project management. Human centered design thinking is a core function of her teaching. It all goes back to the fact that you can teach law students, lawyers, and legal managers all the concepts in the world, but it’s all for naught if you leave out the human element. Professor Moon also gives a brutally honest view of why women in the legal field tend to leave law firms in order to pursue their creative and life passions outside the firms.

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Marlene and Greg are recently back from Legalweek in New York. While there, they went around to a number of vendors to ask a simple, but relevant question, “what are you doing to change the legal industry?” This week, we get the perspective of four vendors:

It is a fairly easy question, but one company that had a hard time answering? Thomson Reuters. It was a disappointing response from the company that probably has changed the industry more than any other. The marketing cuts that TR has taken for conferences was painfully apparent at Legalweek. One suggestion: if you’re going to cut the quantity of your representation at conferences, make sure you increase the quality of your presence.

Information Inspirations

James Goodnow interviews American Lawyer Editor Gina Passarella
Fennemore Craig, PC Managing Partner, James Goodnow asks AmLaw Editor Gina Passerella what she observed from the panels at Legalweek. Passerella notes that clients are craving data analytics, but that law firms are not producing them. Perhaps because it is not in the firm’s best interest to do so?? Greg isn’t sure that the full reason, but it needs to be a part of a conversation, which many clients and their firms simply are not having. All problems are communications problems. It’s easy to talk on a panel about what’s wrong… it’s tougher to have that conversation face to face. But that’s what needs to happen. Continue Reading Episode 26: Cat Moon on Legal Problem Solving for the 21st Century

One of the best features that Lex Machina provides for Intellectual Property attorneys is their increased accuracy of information pulled from PACER. The improvements that Lex Machina has made on Cause-of-Action (CoA) and Nature- of-Suit (NoS) codes entered into PACER make it an invaluable resource to clearly identify relevant matters and weed out irrelevant cases. By improving the data, Lex Machina reduces the “garbage in – garbage out” effect that exists in the PACER database.

Now Lex Machina has turned its focus on cleaning up another annoyance found in PACER data, as well as many of the other platforms that pull data from PACER. The Attorney Data Engine analyzes the PACER information and identifies the attorneys that are actually associated with the case, even if those attorneys do not show up on the attorney list via PACER.

I talked with Karl Harris, Vice-President of Products at Lex Machina, a couple weeks ago, and he gave me some insights on the new Attorney Data Engine, and how they are increasing the accuracy of identifying attorneys and law firms that are actually working on the cases filed through PACER. Karl mentioned that in New Jersey and Delaware, two very important states when it comes to Intellectual Property cases, only about 54% of the attorneys that work on the cases, actually show up in the PACER information. That means that nearly half of the attorneys are missing from the metadata produced by PACER. When accuracy is important, missing nearly half of the attorney names can cause quite a problem.

For those of us that ever put on a demo for an attorney of docket information, we know that one of the first questions the attorney asks is “can you find ‘X’ case, which I represented ‘Y’ client?” If you cannot find that information, the demo may as well end right there. Attorneys are issue spotters. If you cannot get accurate information, they will not trust that the product actually works.

With the new Lex Machina Attorney Data Engine, you should be able to find the attorney information, even if PACER missed it.

Here is an overview of the three components of the Attorney Data Engine:

  1. The PACER metadata itself: Every time Lex Machina crawls PACER data, they keep a historical record and can identify when attorneys are added or removed from a case over time. This makes the PACER data better by itself.
  2. Pro Hac Vice Extractor: Docket entries will mention when attorneys are added Pro Hac Vice to a case. Lex Machina also keeps a record of attorneys associated to law firms (over time.)
  3. Signature Block Analyzer: Lex Machina analyzes the documents attached to the docket entries and identifies the signature blocks for each attorney. Even if the attorney’s name doesn’t show up in the Docket entry, if they have a signature block, they are then associated with the case. 
Karl Harris states that the Attorney Data Engine makes Lex Machina “the best source for reliably figuring out which attorneys are involved in which cases.” 
It will be interesting to watch Lex Machina grow over the next couple of years, and to see how its new parent company, Lexis, assists in advancing its progress through access to additional data points. It is not a far jump to see how the Attorney Data Engine processes can be turned into a Company Data Engine using Lexis’ company information databases. Lexis has the content, and Lex Machina has the analytical resources to make that content better. It should make for some interesting results as the two companies learn how to adapt processes to the different products. 

“To provide the public with open access to electronic federal court records.”

That is the plan for The Open PACER Act being pushed by OpenPACER.org.

Today there was a cross-posting on the Law Library Blog (not to be confused with the Law Librarian Blog), and Legal Research Plus. You can read the proposed bill and see how it asks for open access to the federal court records.

We’ve talked before on PACER and open access (which I took some criticizm.) I think that the idea of a free PACER system, especially one that better modernizes the platform, would be great. However, I do not want to see the Federal Court System chopped off at the knees by removing a source of funding for the Courts without offsetting those cuts. So, if the Courts lose PACER revenues, then Congress should make sure they balance that by offsetting the costs through increased funding. Currently, I do not see that in the Open PACER Act. Any chance for a friendly amendment??

I’m probably not going to be popular with my LAW.GOV friends with this post because I’m going to play the role of Devil’s Advocate and make the argument that they leave PACER alone… at least for now. My primary reason for leaving it alone is the fact that it may be one of the best government run resources available… from any branch of government. Secondly, like it or not, it is a revenue generating resource for the federal court system. I know… I know… you’re saying that it is a “public resource” and US citizens shouldn’t have to pay for access to information that is built upon the data submitted to the courts, by those citizens. However, there are a lot of things related to the courts that we pay for — court fees, jury fees, court copy fees, etc — this is just one more, and one that most people I’ve talked to say is the most reasonable fee that the court charges.

Perhaps in a perfect world the taxes we pay would fully support the court systems, and the need for filing fees and an .08¢ per page charge for PACER wouldn’t be necessary. But the last time I checked, the courts were still underfunded and there’s been no push from Congress to increase budgets or salaries. According to Steve Schultze’s working paper, PACER fees are covering court expenses that are not related to direct costs of maintaining PACER.

By 2009, the list of programs supported by PACER fees was further expanded, and expenditures on the non‐PACER items increased. “In fiscal year 2009, the Judiciary plans to use $106.8 million in EPA collections and prior‐year carryforward to fund public access initiatives including the following:

  • Public Access Services and Applications $17.7 million;
  • Telecommunications $8.7 million;
  • EPA Equipment $1.3 million;
  • CM/ECF Development, Operations and Maintenance $33.4 million;
  • Courtroom Technology Allotments for Maintenance/Technology Refreshment $25.8 million;
  • Electronic Bankruptcy Noticing $9.7 million;
  • CM/ECF Allotments to Courts $7.5 million;
  • CM/ECF state feasibility study $1.4 million;
  • Violent Crime Control Act Notification $1.0 million; and
  • Jury Management System Public Web Page $0.2 million.
    (hat-tip to Joe Hodnicki at LLB)

Schultze has a good idea for providing bulk access to court data for free, but argues that there is no statutory reason for the fees that are generated from PACER be used in non-PACER projects, such as upgrading technology in the courthouses and courtrooms of federal courts. Perhaps these charges should have never have been tied to PACER fees… but that ship has sailed. If the PACER fees go away, do you think that anyone in Congress has the backbone to bring a bill up to fund these services? My guess is “no”. So, what do you do with these expenses? Cut them? Drop them? Up the other fees associated with filing cases in federal courts? Create a new fee that charges attorneys that practice in federal courts to make up the difference? It is an issue that is tied to the free PACER argument, and it needs to be explained right along side of the benefits of open access to Federal Dockets.

Now if you’re thinking that I’m anti-free PACER, you’d be wrong. I was part of the Oklahoma Court project that created the Oklahoma Court Information System (OCIS) that created free access to a number of Court Docket systems throughout Oklahoma (although, my piece was maintaining the OSCN database). But even the idea of creating a free access system ran into some of the same issues that have to be addressed with PACER. Legacy systems, related fee structures, and other issues created a number of stumbling blocks (logistical and political).

We all like “Free”, but we also like a stable, adequately funded court system as well. I don’t mind if PACER becomes a free resource as long as there is a stable means of replacing the revenue that will be lost to the courts. Perhaps the courts should have never become addicted to the revenue generated by PACER… and  perhaps they should have never have started funding non-PACER activities with that revenue… but that’s where we are with PACER, and those issues have to be addressed and answered before we can make PACER a free resource.