PACER Spending Survey

As many of you know, earlier this summer, we [a small band of law librarians who believe in improved open access] launched a petition to improve PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). As a follow-up to a number of the comments we received on the petition, we created a web survey on Zoomerang to learn more about actual library expenses for PACER.

Fifty-eight law firm libraries responded. And for 2008, these firm libraries spent on average $13,068.48 on PACER. The total expenses for these firms was $692,629.30 in 2008. Notable, too, one firm spent almost $110,000 on PACER last year.

Sixty-six law school libraries, including thirty-two public and thirty-four private, responded. In 2008, the law school libraries spent on average $656.74 on PACER; the total expenses in 2008 for law school libraries was $38,090.92.

And, between the public and private schools, there was a difference, too. The public law school libraries spent almost half as much as the private law school libraries (public law school libraries in 2008: $457.08 average vs. private law school libraries: $856.40 average).

[Note: we had fewer than 10 responses in the other categories of Federal Ct/Gov’t, State Ct/Gov’t, Non-law Academic, Corporate, and Other.]

While the vast majority of law firm library respondents shared that they do not place “any restrictions or limitations on PACER usage or access in their library” (language from the survey question), only three out of the sixty-six (4.5%) academic law library respondents stated that they did not limit or ration access to PACER (however, one of these schools reported spending less than $20.00 in 2008).

Many of the firm librarians commented that the cost of PACER was far less than the commercial options (CourtLink, CourtExpress) or sending a runner to the court to copy documents. The firm librarians also noted that they could often pass the costs of PACER on to their clients; however, some librarians noted difficulties with the PACER billing reports and client matter numbers.

On the flip side, academic law librarians were very concerned about the costs.A few of the comments included: “that there is no way to limit costs’, “it gets expensive rather quickly”, “if PACER were cheaper, … we would use PACER more frequently”, and one stated that they have a “PACER account that few know about (so as to minimize costs).”

The unknown/potential costs of using PACER hold back most law school libraries from letting their patrons fully utilize PACER. However, if we limit access to PACER, can we provide adequate training that prepares our students? In the survey that we conducted just last year regarding Westlaw and Lexis preferences among law librarians, when respondents were asked which other online databases that they would like to have taught in law school, eighty percent of the law firm librarians wanted training provided on PACER. We need to train our students and equip our patrons with access to this important resource, but we can’t afford to do so. In our library alone, we had one student patron run up a $500 dollar bill on PACER. If we allowed all of our students full access, our spending could easily surpass our Westlaw and Lexis costs.

In just a few weeks, we plan to share the petition results with the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. It is not too late to sign and most importantly, add comments and your thoughts to this dialogue.

Note: This article was first published via Legal Research Plus, on August 28, 2009

Posted in: Court Resources, E-Government, Features, Legal Research, Legal Technology, Public Records