Legal professionals often need to access court documents and case information, but knowing where to find them most efficiently and cost effectively isn't always easy. There several services that provide access to recent court documents - some free and some fee based.
The following is a run-down of available services of which I am aware. If you know of of any others, please share them in the comments.
PACER (http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov) -
Most recent federal court documents are available via the PACER system. Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts. However, users must pay a fee to access PACER - much to the consternation of those who believe that government information should be free.
Free public access to PACER is currently provided in Federal courthouses (see the clerk of courts). Note that the Western Dist of WI charges 50 cents per page for printing. If you wish to set up your own account, note that PACER waives the first $10 of annual costs for each registered user.
FreeCourtDockets (http://freecourtdockets.com) - FreeCourtDockets is a new, free service which allows anyone to retrieve federal civil, criminal, and bankruptcy court dockets. The site is the product of Courtport LLC, but is ad-sponsored. No PACER account is required to view the dockets, but if you wish to view the filings for a case, a PACER account is needed. To retrieve all court dockets except U.S. Supreme cases, you must first obtain an invitation code. To request a free code, you'll need to complete a form on the FreeCourtDockets website.
Justia Federal District Court Filings and Dockets (http://dockets.justia.com) - Justia contains case information from the Federal District Courts. Some cases also include opinions, orders, and other filings.
RECAP (https://www.recapthelaw.org/) - While RECAP isn't technically a tool for locating court documents, it is a useful PACER add-on for Firefox users. Essentially what RECAP does is archive the documents that you view in PACER and then make them available to other RECAP users at no charge. For a glimpse of RECAP in action, watch the short video available on their website. See the features page for more information.
CCAP (http://www.wicourts.gov/casesearch.htm) Wisconsin uses the CCAP system which contains civil and criminal case information and status reports compiled through the court's Consolidated Court Automation Programs (CCAP) case management system. While you'll find case information and dockets in CCAP, the actual documents filed in the case are generally not available, except for briefs filed on or after July 1, 2009.
Wisconsin Briefs (http://library.law.wisc.edu/eresources/wibriefs/) - For briefs filed before July 2009, try the Wisconsin Briefs database hosted by the UW Law Library. Currently, it contains briefs for Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals published and unpublished cases from 173 Wis.2d (November 1992) through approximately 12-18 months ago.
State and Federal Courts
Westlaw (http://lawschool.westlaw.com) - Westlaw makes accessing court documents very easy. Often at the end of an opinion you'll see links to the briefs and other documents filed in the case. There are also several databases in Westlaw in which you can search for documents directly.
LexisNexis (http://lawschool.lexis.com) - LexisNexis also has several databases containing federal and state court documents. However, it doesn't appear to display links to the documents directly with the opinion as Westlaw does. [LexisNexis users: if I'm wrong about this, let me know]
Westlaw CourtExpress (http://courtexpress.westlaw.com) - CourtExpress is a separate Westlaw product, although you should be able to access it with your regular Westlaw password. It contains state and federal dockets and some filed documents. CourtExpress offers some sophisticated search options, such as jurisdiction, keyword, nature of suit, party name, attorney or judge, date, and more. You can also set up alerts to monitor new cases or track filings in a specific case.
So what happens if you try all these services and still can't find what you need?
If the documents aren't available electronically (which frequently happens with older cases), you may need to contact the clerk of courts to obtain the documents. Note that courts generally charge a fee for document delivery.