Sunday, June 08, 2008

Sources for Free Legal Research on Texas Bankruptcy Cases

It used to be that to keep up with the latest case law, it was necessary to review the advance sheets or keep up with the latest legal journals. Of course, this required expensive subscriptions and ran weeks or months behind the release date of the opinions. Today there are many sources of free legal research released in real time.

There are three main ways to gain access to up to the minute case updates free of charge. The first is through listserves which provide case updates as they are released. The second is court websites which contain links to recent opinions. Finally, opinions can be searched through PACER.

PACER (or Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is primarily known for containing electronic docket sheets and court documents, which can be accessed for a fee of 8 cents per page. However, a relatively new addition to PACER allows free searches for written opinions. To search for opinions under PACER, go to the PACER site for a district, look for “Reports” and then click on “Written Opinions.” The opinions can be searched by date and by division. It is also possible to search for an opinion by name. A search for the Southern District of Texas Bankruptcy Court revealed that there were sixteen opinions released from May 1 to June 7, 2008. PACER is the most comprehensive source for new bankruptcy court opinions. However, the written opinions feature only goes back to April 2005 and is not searchable by keyword. As a result, it requires some patience.

Here are the best sources for opinions relevant to Texas Bankruptcy lawyers.

Supreme Court

The best source for Supreme Court updates is the Cornell Law School Supreme Court listserve. By subscribing to this free service, readers receive updates as to cases which have been granted cert and opinions released. The updates are released in real time so that it is a very good way to stay up to date on developments in the Supreme Court. The nice thing about this listserve is that it contains both summaries of the opinions and links to read the opinions themselves. This makes it easy to scan through the day’s opinions to decide which ones merit further reading.

To subscribe to this listserve, go to:

Fifth Circuit

The Fifth Circuit has an opinions page located at The initial page lists opinions released that day. There is also an option to do a keyword search for opinions going back to 1992.

The other nice feature of the Fifth Circuit opinions page is that they offer an opinions subscription which provides an email twice a day listing the opinions released that day and attaching copies of the published opinions. Opinions can be received in either WordPerfect or PDF format. The downside to this service is that the opinions do not come with a summary so that it is necessary to either read every opinion to figure out which ones relate to bankruptcy (which are a very small percentage) or just try to guess based on the name of the case.

District Courts

Both the U.S. District Courts for the Southern and Western Districts of Texas participate in a site sponsored by the Southern District of New York called Courtweb. The site can be accessed at: The opinions can be searched by keyword. Curiously, a search for the term “bankruptcy” turned up only eight opinions from the Southern District, but found 121 decisions from the Western District.

Bankruptcy Courts

Each of the four bankruptcy courts in Texas has a website. However, each district has a different approach to posting its opinions.

Northern District of Texas:

The Northern District of Texas offers several options for opinion searching. It has a comprehensive list of opinions which can be sorted by judge, by date, by case name or by case number. One nice feature of this page is that it includes retired judges as well as current judges. While the opinions can be sorted by date released, the page does not list those dates. Thus, it is necessary to open up the opinions to find out just how recent they are. One unique feature contained on the Northern District page is that it includes an email subscription service which allows the reader to receive updates whenever new opinions are released.

Southern District of Texas:

The Southern District judges previously released opinions intended for publication on the Courtweb site and selected unpublished opinions on the Court’s website. Unfortunately, no new Southern District opinions have been added to Courtweb since July 18, 2007. As a result, PACER is currently the only way to find current Southern District Bankruptcy opinions.

Eastern District of Texas:

The Eastern District recently unveiled a new and improved website. It includes an opinions page for its two judges. The page breaks down opinions by subject matter, date and whether they are published or unpublished. Unfortunately the page for Judge Parker is still under construction. However, litigants appearing before Judge Rhoades can browse through 76 of her opinions on topics ranging from admissions to zip codes.

Western District of Texas:

The Western District of Texas site contains two unique features. First, the front page of its opinions section lists the ten most recent opinions by date. This makes it easy to keep up with what is current in the Western District. The page also includes a key word search. A search for the term “means test” pulled up 43 hits. The opinions only date back to April 21, 2005. However, that is still a considerable body of cases.

The courts are constantly updating their websites. As a result, it is helpful to check frequently to see what is new. I will update this article from time to time to try to keep up with new developments.


Anonymous said...

This is a good one also. I love free research. Not just Texas though.. and not just Bankruptcy.

Beata said...

Well written article.