There is no shortage of information about the law. From legal blogs, to law review articles and op-eds, to the ever-increasing swell of comments by legal pundits and laypeople alike, consumers are never at a loss for data: The question is whether it is reliable data.
The increasing public availability of court records is altering this narrative, adding more layers of precision and accuracy to the data that we consume. From equipping the public with accurate data points on parties and cases, to holding public officials accountable to the people they serve, readily accessible court data is changing the legal landscape, and for the better.
Here are the top ten ways court data will continue to revolutionize the legal profession throughout the next decade.
1. Access to Justice. Court records are not only available to the public, but they can also be accessed from a number of different platforms. UniCourt centralizes court data, providing an intuitive search engine that allows users to build analytics on a particular party. The availability of court records to the public – particularly in a manner that makes them easy to parse – fosters a culture in which both legal professionals and lay people can educate themselves about the law.
2. Transparency. The public availability of legal data promotes a posture of transparency among leaders in our profession, from judges to legislators to attorneys themselves. In particular, judges are held to high standards of impartiality in ruling on cases. Making their written opinions and dispositions public and subject to general scrutiny creates accountability, ensuring that they will rule in a manner that is fair, unbiased, and consistent with established precedent.
3. Trend Spotting. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Platforms like UniCourt’s aggregate and centralize data, allowing users to seek out patterns and trends, and ultimately, to make important legal or business decisions based on a party’s behavioral history.
4. Strategic Case Planning. Data aggregation and analytics can help lawyers plan more strategically, efficiently, and creatively in their case work, combining data with methods of design thinking to improve processes and seek creative solutions to their clients’ problems.
5. Truthfulness. Court data constitutes primary authority that has not yet been subjected to human revision or manipulation. Further, court records are produced while individuals are under oath, subject to the threat of perjury charges. As such, court records present a more accurate, often unforgiving picture of a legal principle, party identity, or precedent.
6. A More Complete Profile. Court records supply millions of data points, from dispositions in large-scale federal cases, to statutory analyses in state appellate cases or even small-stakes civil claims. Because court records supply so many different data points, they allow researchers and consumers to build a fuller profile on a searched individual or party.
7. Accuracy and Accountability. Official records carry a natural presumption of accuracy. They make it difficult for people to fabricate information about themselves. You simply cannot “bleach” a cross examination of someone charged with a crime, and you cannot always clear up a criminal record. Humans may lie, but official records will not.
8. Accurate Party Searches. Court records contain accurate data on parties, most notably, their names, titles, and aliases. In particular, normalization technology leveraged by search engines resolves issues arising from incomplete or inaccurate party profiles.
9. Less Margin for Error. Databases sourced by entries supplied by human beings, like most search engines, naturally contain margin for error. However, using resources that search the same types of sources – i.e., court records – users can more easily identify errors and omissions.
10. Multiple Data Sources. From docket entries, to complaints or indictments, affidavits, depositions, courtroom transcripts, and judgments, court records supply a treasure trove of information about a given case, party, or legal issue.
UniCourt is proud to be a central part of making court data widely available to the public. We look forward to continuing to promote open access to legal information in a way that empowers individuals both within and beyond the legal profession.