No matter what you think of our federal government, you have to admit that its web presence is pretty darned impressive. Federal courts are no exception; both district and appellate courts have all boasted websites for several years (I wish a similar standard could be created across the country for state courts). But our federal and state courts of appeal definitely differ in the quality of the services they provide online. Howard Bashman of How Appealing reviews some of these sites and discusses the best and the worst of them.

It’s a great article, but I have two minor complaints. First, why didn’t Law.com provide links to the courts mentioned by Howard in his article? Tsk, tsk.

Second, Howard states:

The U.S. Supreme Court and many state appellate courts make online docket access available. Unfortunately, several years ago the Judicial Conference of the United States — the governing body of the federal judicial system — adopted a rule that requires U.S. courts of appeals and U.S. district courts to charge a fee for docket access of 7 cents per page. While that fee may seem paltry, users cannot access online dockets unless they have an account to which those charges can be billed. As a result, many lawyers and members of the public cannot take advantage of the ease of access that online docket entries provide.

Yes, PACER requires free registration and creation of an account in order to access court documents, and for security reasons it takes about a week to get your password and username mailed to you. But it’s certainly not a serious obstacle preventing attorneys and other legal researchers from getting to the information, or forcing them to phone or mail the courts. In addition to providing simple docket information many courts are now providing PDF or scanned versions of pleadings, briefs, and other documents filed in a case — how can you afford not to register?