July 22, 2024

RECAP Featured in XRDS Magazine

Harlan Yu and I recently wrote an article for XRDS Magazine entitled Using Software to Liberate U.S. Case Law. The article describes the motivation behind the CITP project called RECAP, and it outlines the state of public access to electronic court records.

Using PACER is the only way for citizens to obtain electronic records from the Courts. Ideally, the Courts would publish all of their records online, in bulk, in order to allow any private party to index and re-host all of the documents, or to build new innovative services on top of the data. But while this would be relatively cheap for the Courts to do, they haven’t done so, instead choosing to limit “open” access.


Since the first release, RECAP has gained thousands of users, and the central repository contains more than 2.3 million documents across 400,000 federal cases. If you were to purchase these documents from scratch from PACER, it would cost you nearly $1.5 million. And while our collection still pales in comparison to the 500 million documents purportedly in the PACER system, it contains many of the most-frequently accessed documents the public is searching for.


As with many issues, it all comes down to money. In the E-Government Act of 2002, Congress authorized the Courts to prescribe reasonable fees for PACER access, but “only to the extent necessary” to provide the service. They sought to approve a fee structure “in which this information is freely available to the greatest extent possible”.

However, the Courts’ current fee structure collects significantly more funds from users than the actual cost of running the PACER system.

You can read the full article on the XRDS site.


  1. Christopher Camp says

    Great article and great job with RECAP. As a law student I became interested in access to the law – cases, statutes, even textbooks and legal education. The evolution of PACER (and the open access movement in general) has been frustrating and at this point, 15+ years into the internet age, I thought we’d be further along the road to full and free access to the law.

    Beyond my compliments re RECAP, I also want to offer something that may be helpful from a marketing perspective – a name. I started a student organization in law school and called it Publex, the org never did much beyond hold a few brainstorming meetings and set up a skeleton of a website but I still love the name. I’m not using it right now and I’ve got another project that’s taking most of my time (restartdemocracy.org), so let me know if you’ve got any interest in using Publex. I’d love to see it go to good home 🙂

    Either way, great work on opening up the law!