If you’re looking to use public court records for an internal data project, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that, at least for federal cases, PACER exists and has a solid track record of being able to run queries across all 94 U.S. federal courts. The bad news, though, is that each individual court (or each chamber within a court) has its own idea about what’s important to put into PACER. And even if you find what you need, it can be expensive.

The “Designing Data Projects Using Court Records” panel at the 2022 American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) Conference explored some of the opportunities and roadblocks that come with building data projects out of publicly available data. On the positive side, the panelists noted, are the opportunities for transparency and accessibility of court proceedings to the general public.