This post compares the functionality of Lexis’s Courtlink with that of Dockets on Bloomberg Law. When I was asked to write about this topic, it happened that I had just been asked to look for a brief related to a current Supreme Court case—United States v. Sineneng-Smith, No. 19-67 (U.S. filed July 12, 2019), so this seemed like a good place to start.
Round One: Searching for a Known Federal Docket
To begin, I logged into Lexis Advance and navigated to Courtlink through the product switcher menu.
Courtlink’s front page has a drop-down menu to select whether to search for Dockets, Court Documents, or both. Another drop-down menu allows the user to limit jurisdiction. The page also allows the user to enter search terms in docket-related fields. Docket fields on Courtlink include Docket Number, Litigants, Attorney, Law Firm, Judge, Date Filed, and Case Status. Additionally, contextual fields appear when the jurisdictional settings change.
Since I had a docket number for the case, I thought the easiest way to search would be to enter “19-67” in the Docket Number field and search in Dockets.
This search returned 706 dockets. I saw the case I was looking for listed as #3 on the returned list. The Courtlink interface provides a list of filters on the left that function in the same manner as those on Lexis Advance. These filters include the pre-search filters, (i.e., Jurisdiction, Date, and Case Status) as well as some additional filters, including; Practice Area, Keywords, Litigation Area, Case Type, etc. If you are familiar with the Nature of Suit codes used in PACER, you will have to apply a federal jurisdictional filter to make the Nature of Suit filter visible (https://www.pacer.gov/documents/natsuit.pdf). Selecting federal jurisdiction also opens several other contextual fields related to specific federal courts and case types. Selecting a state filter will also open contextual fields related to that state’s courts plus related federal courts.
To compare, I logged into Bloomberg Law and selected Dockets from the dashboard. Bloomberg’s search page includes the same options for limiting a search as Courtlink. Rather than using contextual fields, Bloomberg hides some of the search fields in expanding menus. If you are searching within documents, Bloomberg also includes Docket Key for a limited number of U.S. District Courts. (Specific coverage for Docket Key is available here: https://help.bloomberglaw.com/docs/blh-040-dockets.html) Docket Key permits the user to limit the search to certain types of documents (complaint, brief, etc.). Although contextual, the Docket Key field is still visible to the user when unavailable. To duplicate the search on Courtlink, we’ll search only dockets and put 19-67 in the Docket # field.
Bloomberg returned 458 results. On the left, Bloomberg includes filters for jurisdictions, courts, federal Nature of Suit numbers, Bankruptcy chapters, and dates. Since the case I was looking for was not within the first ten results on the list, I applied the U.S. Supreme Court filter. After, there was only one item on the list, United States v. Sineneng-Smith.
I quickly found the docket for United States v. Sineneng-Smith using both systems. I prefer Bloomberg’s approach to fields and filters. When reviewing the pre-search screen initially, I could not tell that Courtlink included a means to filter by Nature of Suit codes, and I had to experiment with jurisdictional filters to make it appear. On post-search filtering, while Courtlink had several subject-area filters which could serve a similar purpose as Nature of Suit, as with pre-search filtering, the Nature of Suit filter only appears when federal jurisdiction is selected.
Round Two: The Docket Sheets
Having found United States v. Sineneng-Smith, I opened the docket sheet in both systems.
Both systems include information about filing dates, litigants, attorneys, when the docket sheet was last updated in the system, information about the case in the lower court, and each docket entry includes the date and text describing what occurred. Beyond this, the coverage differs.
For this docket, on Bloomberg, there are about twice as many entries on the docket sheet. Most of the additional entries represent separate documents for the same act (Main Document, Proof of Service, Certificates). The Courtlink version did not have links to related documents at all. In a few cases, items are present on the Bloomberg version that are completely absent from Courtlink. This discrepancy is because Bloomberg’s version was last updated today while the Courtlink version was last updated nineteen days ago; at present, there is no way to update the docket on Courtlink.
After seeing a docket sheet on Courtlink with no linked documents, I went back to the search page, changed my filter to search for only documents, and searched for Sineneng-Smith. This search returned 214 results. Adding the U.S. Supreme Court filter reduced the number of documents to four. The list included two briefs and two petitions for writ of certiorari. Strangely, the briefs included a document not associated with a docket sheet entry.
I asked my Lexis representative whether there were supposed to be related documents linked to dockets within Courtlink. She responded that since Courtlink is a new addition to the Lexis Advance platform, not all Courtlink documents have been fully integrated. She speculated all dockets would eventually be linked to documents. She also sent me a different example showing a docket with linked documents, Trump v. Clifford, 2:18cv2217, (C.D. Cal., filed Mar. 16, 2018). I accessed this docket in both systems to continue comparing features.
On both Courtlink and Bloomberg, this docket appears to have the same entries. Both systems appear to have links to all available documents. The one advantage I found that Courtlink has over Bloomberg is that it permits the user to sort the docket sheet by any column while Bloomberg only permits the user to reverse the order. On the other hand, advantages of Bloomberg include: allowing users to collapse parts of the docket screen, includes links to related opinions, has the ability to track dockets, and perhaps most importantly, has a big friendly update docket button. (In Courtlink’s help pages, I found directions for both tracking and updating dockets. The directions for tracking told me to click on the bell icon and the directions for updating told me to click on the Update Now button. Unfortunately, I saw neither the bell icon nor the Update Now button on either of the docket sheets I viewed.)
For docket sheet access, while I liked Courtlink’s ability to sort the docket by any column, it did not appear to have features like tracking or the ability to update a docket. Bloomberg’s docket sheet interface seemed to be put together better. Once Courtlink implements the features promised in its help pages, it will probably compare better.
Round Three: Searching Dockets
The first difference between the search interfaces is that on Courtlink, one is limited to keyword searching while searching Dockets & Documents. The only pre-search filter available is a jurisdictional filter called Within. If one selects Court Documents, a Date Filed filter is added and a Nature of Suit filter may appear if federal jurisdiction is selected. There does not appear to be additional search fields or filters available.
On Bloomberg, many more filters and fields are available pre-search. These are the same as described above.
Since the two do not compare exactly, I ran a comparison search in Court Documents on Courtlink and in Dockets and Documents on Bloomberg. I set both date filters to return items from within one year. I then ran the following search on both systems: “evolving standards of decency” AND “felony murder”. This search should return very recent dockets and documents involving Eighth Amendment arguments related to felony murder cases.
Courtlink returned 15 related documents and gave options to filter results by category (document type), jurisdiction, practice area, attorney, law firm, most cited statute, pre-selected keywords, judge, litigation area, and search within results. One can also create an alert based on the search. I made several attempts on different days to download the entire list using different formats and two different browsers; unfortunately, every one of these attempts failed to produce a file. (Alleged format options include pdfs, different word processors, and an Excel file that includes metadata for the documents on the list.) I was able to go into the individual documents on the list and download those.
At the bottom left of the list that Bloomberg returned, are two radio buttons marked Docket and Entries. Selecting Docket returns dockets that have your keywords contained within the dockets and associated documents that Bloomberg already has in its system (i.e., it does not extend the search to Pacer). For this search, Bloomberg returned 25 dockets. The Docket results have only the date as an option for post-search filtering, though there is an option for Edit Search that reopens the search page with your previously entered search. Selecting Entries returns dockets and associated documents within jurisdictions covered by Bloomberg’s Docket Key system. This search returned four items in Entries. The Entries results page includes filters for Jurisdictions, NoS, Filing Type, and Date. The two lists do not necessarily overlap one another, so you’ll want to review both lists when doing research.
The results list options on Bloomberg include Create Alert, CSV Results, and various list downloads (formats include, pdf, rtf/doc, and Excel). The Excel list download includes the same information displayed on the results screen. The CSV results are a little different. They include the same information as the results, but that information is broken down into different columns. It includes among other things party names, a link to the docket on Bloomberg, and attorney names. This format could be useful for doing empirical research on cases currently being litigated.
Since so many of the features on Courtlink do not yet appear to work, I would have to give Round Three to Bloomberg as well. I will be interested in seeing how the download features would work in Courtlink, in particular, the Excel file download, once they actually operate.
Written by CS-SIS Blog Committee member Artie Berns, Research & Emerging Technologies Librarian at Western New England University School of Law Library.