Wisconsin Lawyer: Practice Tips: Monitoring Cases:

State Bar of Wisconsin

Sign In

News & Pubs Search


    Practice Tips: Monitoring Cases

    Monitoring case filings can help lawyers stay current in their practice areas and up to date on cases in which they're involved. Here are some free and fee-based services to help you keep your edge.

    Carol Bannen

    Share This:

    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 81, No. 3, March 2008

    Practice Tips

    Tips for Monitoring Cases

    Monitoring case filings can help lawyers stay current in their practice areas and up to date on cases in which they're involved. Here are some free and fee-based services to help you keep your edge.

    by Carol Bannen

    Attorneys need to be current on new cases in their field. They also need frequent updates on cases in which they are involved. More and more attorneys are monitoring case filings to stay ahead of the curve and watch for lawsuits filed against their clients or potential clients. Monitoring case filings can be a very effective business development tool. For example, if you see a filing involving a client or someone you know, you might get business by contacting them. This article reviews free and fee-based resources to assist attorneys with monitoring cases and case filings.

    Case Summaries

    One of the best ways to keep current on new Wisconsin cases is to subscribe to CaseLaw ExpressTM on WisBarTM, the State Bar of Wisconsin Web site. CaseLaw Express indexes Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions by subject. Subscribers to this free service receive weekly lists by email that may be scanned for cases applicable to specific areas of law.

    Carol Bannen

    Carol Bannen is director of information resources at Reinhart, Boerner, Van Deuren s.c., Milwaukee. She is a member of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin and is cochair of the American Association of Law Librarians Publishing Initiatives Caucus encouraging law librarians to publish. Bannen is a frequent speaker to legal practitioners and researchers.

    Three print publications also regularly summarize and reprint Wisconsin cases. The monthly Wisconsin Lawyer magazine includes summaries of recent Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions. The weekly Wisconsin Law Journal includes full-text Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals decisions and selected federal decisions. Summaries of selected opinions of the Wisconsin circuit courts, the Labor and Industry Review Commission, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the Wisconsin Tax Appeals Commission, and the Wisconsin Attorney General's Office also are included. The cases are reported by topic. An email case alert is available to subscribers. The Wisconsin Law Reporter is a semi-monthly periodical that also summarizes and lists by topic Wisconsin state and federal cases but does not reprint the full text. Advance sheets to Callaghan's Wisconsin Reports and West's Wisconsin Reporter also are issued weekly but are not as current as these other publications.

    Alerts to New Cases

    In addition to keeping current on recent opinions, many attorneys also are taking advantage of services that enable them to monitor new case filings. For example, many Web content distributors offer RSS feeds in conjunction with the featured products and services. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) uses Web feeds to alert users that the information on the site has been updated. RSS feeds are particularly useful because they make it easy to track constantly changing Web sites, like those that report legal news and case developments. For more information on how to set up and use an RSS feed, see "RSS: Making the Internet Subscribeable" by Bonnie Shucha in the August 2006 Wisconsin Lawyer.

    PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case information from most federal courts. Dockets for most courts go back to the 1990s. Starting in the last two or three years, many federal courts now have documents available digitally on PACER. Use of the PACER system requires a separate login ID and password, which may be obtained at it's website. There is a charge of $.08 per page viewed. Unfortunately, PACER does not currently offer an alert service for new filings. There are, however, several other services that do.

    For federal district court civil cases, alerts can be set up in Justia. Justia offers free alerts by state and by nature of suit (NOS) codes. Justia is the most cost-effective way to monitor federal case filings and opinions. Filings can be searched by party name, jurisdiction, NOS, or date range, and RSS feeds may be subscribed to for delivery of alert results. For example, all Microsoft case filings and all new patent cases filed in the Western District of Wisconsin can be delivered by RSS feed or email. The Justia database includes more than 897,000 cases filed since Jan. 1, 2006, and is updated daily. Justia also supplies a link to the full docket, which requires a paid PACER subscription to access. Justia recently added the full text of federal district court opinions and orders with daily updates back to 2004. These opinions are categorized by state, court, and type of lawsuit. An RSS feed can be used to track a court's decisions on the different types of lawsuits. The cause of action for each case is noted.

    The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Wisconsin now offers an RSS feed for notification of new orders, including judgments and complaints filed. Each time a new document is filed, the court sends a notice with the docket number and party name. A link to sign into PACER, where the PACER fees apply, is provided. Bonnie Shucha, head of reference at the U.W. Law School library, in her WisBlawg, suggests using MyYahoo!, Firefox's Sage, or RSSReader.com because not all RSS readers work with the bankruptcy court's site.

    Another alert provider, Courthouse News Service (CNS), www.courthousenews.com, offers a daily service for a fee. For $1,200 per year or $300 per quarter, for each office location, subscribers receive a daily email of new civil complaints filed in the federal courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Wisconsin. Daily coverage also includes Milwaukee County, Waukesha County, and Dane County circuit courts. Weekly coverage of all other Wisconsin circuit courts also is included. CNS sends "real people" to the courts and does not rely strictly on the data posted in court dockets, so CNA often has new filings available before they show up in PACER. CNS has coverage all over the country and allows for subscription by geographic area. In addition, CNS has a product for all Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota. For an additional charge the complaint may be downloaded.

    For a fee, alerts may be set up using Courtlink,Westlaw Court Express, and WestDockets found on Westlaw. All three provide coverage of the Wisconsin state and federal courts. Court Express and Courtlink have dockets from the Eastern District from 1991, the Western District from 1989, the Eastern and Western District bankruptcy courts from 1997, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal and the circuit courts from 2000. Courtlink includes the Milwaukee Municipal Court.

    Although coverage by Courtlink, Court Express, and WestDockets is the same as that on PACER, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Case Access (WSCCA), and the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Program (CCAP), these services provide enhanced search options not found on PACER, CCAP, or WSCCA. It often is difficult to find all the filings for a business in CCAP or WSCCA, because the business name field is not used consistently by all the courts. This can be remedied by also entering the name of the business in the last name field. This type of search cannot be done in all counties at once. Each county must be searched individually. Using Courtlink, Court Express, or WestDockets allows all counties to be searched simultaneously, which can save a considerable amount of time. Remember that in CCAP Portage County has only its probate cases and Menomonie County has only its civil and family cases online.

    Although alert services are not available for CCAP or WSCCA, monitoring a particular case still can be accomplished by setting up an alert using WatchThatPage. The service is free after registration but heavy users are asked to get a subscription. Users simply look up a docket in CCAP or WSCCA, copy the URL for the page, and then paste it into the box on watchthatpage.com. Different delivery options may be set up in the personal profile, and notification of any changes to the page can be daily or weekly. This actually works for any page on the Internet that has a unique URL.

    As previously discussed, neither CCAP nor WSCCA offers an alert service, but the Web sites for both began to provide RSS feeds at the end of October 2007. During a search, a small orange RSS button appears at the top right of the search results page. A subscription to the RSS feed will enable delivery notification of new cases matching selected keywords. Cases can be tracked by party name, attorney, class code, and so on. RSS feeds for individual case dockets also have been added.

    Other alert options worth mentioning are Google Alerts, Westclips, Westlaw Watch, and LexisNexis Eclipse. Google Alerts can be used to monitor anything available on the Web that does not require registration, passwords, or a subscription. The Google search engine cannot sign into Pacer, for example, and will not retrieve cases from CCAP. A Google alert is a good thing to use when monitoring a case that is going to get a lot of press. Searching with the party names will pick up discussion in news articles, lawyer newsletters, and other sources. Free registration with Google is necessary to set up alerts and receive email updates. On the Google main page, click on iGoogle in the upper right hand corner to complete the registration. Westclip or Westlaw Watch and LexisNexis Eclipse searches also can be set up to monitor cases and topics. Westlaw allows searches to be run and a results list delivered at no charge, while a fee is required for Westlaw Watch and LexisNexis Eclipse.

    Monitoring Blogs

    Monitoring blogs is another way to keep current on new cases by topic. Blogs are Web sites that are updated often and contain personal commentary usually on a specific topic. The ABA just published a list of blogs or blawgs (legal blogs) written by lawyers at The Blawg Directory. More than 1,000 blogs are indexed by topic, and this index can be sorted by subject, author, state, or court covered. Blogs can be searched with Google Blog Search. Another good search engine for blogs is Technorati, which does some indexing of blogs by subject. Finally, Newsgator has "smart feeds" that can be created with a keyword search or a URL search. Newsgator searches RSS feeds, not Web sites, and as a result it may find things the other search engines do not.

    Using Podcasts

    Another way to stay current on legal cases and issues is to find and subscribe to Podcasts. A Podcast is a recording that can be downloaded and listened to on a computer, iPod, or MP3 player at your leisure. Yahoo has a podcast search engine.

    Print Newsletters

    Attorneys also can use print newsletters to locate new litigation by topic area in federal and state courts. Two popular resources are the Mealeys newsletters owned by LexisNexis and the Andrews newsletters owned by Thomson/West. Both have email services available for subscribers. Westlaw has a free email, for newsletter highlights only, that anyone with a Westlaw password can subscribe to. The BNA (Bureau of National Affairs) newsletters also provide timely analysis of active litigation for both state and federal courts. Legal Newsletters in Print, published by Infosources Publishing, is a good publication that indexes newsletters from all the major publishers by subject. It can be used to locate additional newsletter titles.


    Monitoring cases and case filings is a way for attorneys to stay abreast of new developments within their practice areas, track their own cases, and proactively watch for lawsuits filed against their clients or potential clients. Case monitoring aids client development activities. Attorneys have many choices to help them stay current. With all the tools and resources available, case monitoring need not be a daunting task, and it is well worth the minimal effort and time required.