If an online docket service offers access to a docket that isn’t online, is it really an online service?

That is but one of the philosophical questions you may ask yourself after reading The Existential Exercise of Finding State Court Materials Online, a post by Rachael Samberg at Legal Research Plus.  Samberg conducted a mini-survey of the online availability of state superior court filings, looking at both commercial services such as CourtLink and CourtExpress and at courts’ own websites.

With regard to the commercial sites, her findings are well summed up in this one sentence: “What isn’t available through commercial services significantly constrains research, but what hinders research even further is the inability to determine what isn’t available.”

Even when something is advertised as “available,” that doesn’t mean it is available online. In some cases, Samberg writes, “they are ‘available’ only in the sense that one can make a request online (and pay additional money) to have a runner pull them from the court.”

As for court websites, they are all over the board when it comes to docket access. There is no clear rhyme or reason to why some courts offer docket access and some don’t. Of those that do, the quality of available dockets varies dramatically and “navigational problems can leave you lost at sea.”

Check out Samberg’s post for full details on her findings.

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Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.