Sunday, March 18, 2007

Using Indiana's Online Appellate Opinions

I do not know how long I have been aware that Indiana's appellate courts have been posting their opinions online. I seem to recall some Res Gestae article on the subject at the end of the 1990's but I am also sure that DeBruler was still on the Indiana Supreme Court. Let us just say it has been a long time. During that time there have been some changes.

The Indiana appellate courts have their own section on the Indiana government website and the Indiana Appellate Opinions page exists within those court pages. The page contains links to Current Opinions (with links to the Indiana Supreme Court, to the Indiana Court of Appeals, and to the Indiana Tax Court) and to Archived Opinions (again, from all three appellate courts).

How to use this page?

Well, you can use the link to current pages to check cases on a daily basis. (Or just check out The Indiana Law Blog daily for its listing of cases. Which is what I have been doing for the past few years.). This page offers the opportunity get cases faster than through West or Lexis.

Using the archive pages generally requires patience. I wrote generally because of how I search them: 1) I have a name of a case; 2) I go to the page; and 3) I type the name of the case into my Firefox browser and it finds all uses of the word I typed. That will not work well for Smith v. Smith.

So sounds like the page only works well for getting current opinions on the day of being issued, right? Not so fast. At the top of the page are two boxes which are preceded by the word "search" in small type. Click on the first box and there is a drop down menu. On the menu is Appellate Opinions. Click on this choice and put your search terms into the second box and then click the "Go" button. A much quicker way to find cases. You may also be able to use this search function to do an ersatz Shepardizing of cases. I have no idea why this search function remains so unobvious (there is not even any mention of this function on the main page).

In my posts, I have taken to linking to the cases on the judiciary site. Why? Because they are free unlike Westlaw and Lexis, and this makes the whole opinion available for reading.

Drawbacks and Dealing With Them

Which brings me to the drawbacks to using these opinions. They lack the headnotes of Westlaw or Lexis. They lack the official reporter pagination provided by West. The archives do not contain older cases. These opinions do not differ from the opinions we would receive if we were the attorneys on the case. So why use them besides their lack of cost?

First, I do not use the archived opinions alone. If I have the name for a case I want to read, I can use this site to read the case without paying the big research companies their fees. If I want to use the case, I can then go to law library and get the official cite and the page numbers for what I want to use of a particular case. I can do all this without leaving the office or work late night at home. Then, too, I can use cut and paste to extract text from the opinion to my brief or memo.

Secondly, recognize the site has limitations and work with them.

The current case archive has some potent uses regardless of the general drawbacks. A war story about the current case archive may illustrate its use. A friend of mine told me about a difficult case she was involved in, a few days later I am reviewing cases just handed down by the Court of Appeals, and there was a very, very good case for my friend. I e-mailed her the link to the case. She printed the case and got in front of the judge before the judge was even aware of the case. She won that case. I think that clearly suggests the use for the current case archive. Just think of using them as one would use any slip opinion.

No comments: