Few things have raised such hue and cry in our industry this year as the announcement that PACER was going to be without certain courts’ materials. The concern expressed by law librarians and legal researchers clogged newsfeeds for weeks and made its way – all the way – into the halls of politics. Yet while many saw an immediate challenge to the way we work, others saw an opportunity to turn an old model on its head. Bloomberg BNA president, David Perla, in a recent article for Law Technology News, was among those not only seeing the glass as half-full but also thinking of newer, better ways to make it overflow.
Perla’s assertion was simple and clear. “The private sector shouldn’t expect (or even want) the government to be responsible for online documents,” he wrote. In the midst of the all the brouhaha over missing files and dockets, his was the first major voice to propose that we are looking to the wrong provider to meet our needs. Comparing PACER to EDGAR, he reminds us that the government’s job here is to maintain the collection of these documents in some form and even to make them accessible in the most basic sense and not to invest additional time and money into making them available in more broad and sophisticated ways. After all, wasn’t it the private vendors who really brought EDGAR filings to the masses in ways that were meaningful? Shouldn’t we be urging private vendors to due the same with PACER and its trove of materials?
Undoubtedly, many of us are sitting here thinking, “Sure . . . many of our vendors already do that and they charge us a premium for it!” The attractiveness of PACER has always been its price. Let’s face it, beyond that it is anything but aesthetic and completely lacking in advanced functionality. But this does not diminish Perla’s point. Getting what you pay for is almost a mantra for living these days. Perhaps it was our expectations that needed to be held in check rather than the actions of the folks behind PACER.
So did we create a misguided tempest in a teacup with all of our vocal dismay? Maybe. Maybe not. I know that many will argue that David Perla runs a big company that has a lot to gain in PACER’s shortcomings. Of course Bloomberg BNA wants your docket business. But his company is not the only one looking to improve on the old system. Other titans like Westlaw and Lexis have their own docket products and they are being joined in the marketplace by innovative startups like PacerPro. There is a real opportunity for innovation here and it will be exciting to see where it goes.
For now we are heartened to hear that PACER is restoring the materials that became unavailable (no, they were not lost). But we also welcome Mr. Perla’s call to think beyond the status quo. Isn’t that what this profession is all about? We see a real need and we do our darnedest to fill it in ways that don’t just get the job the done . We endeavor to meet those needs with exceptional service, a powerfully meaningful response, and a customized approach that puts our clients at the center.
I have said it before and I will say it again . . . Librarians and vendors, we have a lot we can learn from each other. Just think of the places we can go when we work together!