If you ever practice in federal court, then using PACER is a part of your job. PACER websites typically let you select a mobile option so that you can access PACER on an iPad or an iPhone, but the experience isn't ideal. You cannot save your username or password, it is difficult to manually enter case numbers, and every time you access a docket sheet or a document you have to pay to do so. Matthew Zorn, an attorney at a large New York law firm, decided to do something about that, so he spent nine months writing a useful and beautifully designed app that he calls DkT. The DkT app is free and can access PACER for federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts.
When you first use the app, tap the house icon at the bottom left to save your user name, password and default client number information. The app then saves and encrypts that information for future use, although you can logout when you want. Zorn tells me that the app interacts directly and only with PACER/ECF, so no third party (including Zorn) ever sees your password.
Once logged in, you can use one of the three main parts of the app, each of which is selected by tapping the tab on the right: Search, Bookmarks and Documents.
You use the Search screen to find a case. The available fields or Case Type, Region, Case Number, Date Filed, Date Closed and Party Name, and you can use as few or as many of those fields as you want. The Region is organized by federal circuit, so when I selected the Fifth Circuit I was able to find both Eastern District of Louisiana cases that I am working on and a single Southern District of Mississippi case where I am admitted pro hac vice.
Once you find your case you can view the docket. Docket entries are clearly displayed on the left. You can use a finger to scroll up and down. You can also scroll up with two fingers to quickly jump to the top, and scroll down with two fingers to quickly jump to the bottom to see the most recent entries. If this is a case that you will access in the future, tap the bookmark icon above the docket entries.
When you are at the top of the docket list, you can pull down on the entries to review a search bar, where you can search for specific entries. When you are at the bottom of the docket list, you can pull up to refresh with any more recent docket entries (which will incur PACER charges).
To see a particular document, tap on an entry on the left to see the document on the right.
It is easy to view a document on the screen. Buttons at the top right let you print the document, save the document, or email the document. If you have previously saved a document, a disk icon appears next to the entry so that you know that you can view it again without having to pay PACER to download a fresh copy.
If you want to open the document in another app that reads PDF files, you cannot currently do that directly from this screen; you do it from the Documents section of the app, discussed below.
The second part of the app is the Bookmarks section. Tap the large Bookmarks tab on the right of the main screen to see the cases that you have previously bookmarked while you were looking at the docket entries. This gives you a fast way to access a case without having to perform another search.
There are two ways to look at a bookmarked case. If you tap the disk icon you will see a saved version of the docket sheet. This is a nice function because you can view a docket without having to pay PACER to download it again — something that you cannot do when you use PACER in the Safari app. If you want to view both saved docket entries and all of the newest entries in the docket, then tap the second icon. PACER will charge you for the new entries.
The third part of the app is the Documents section. This is where you will see all of the documents that you have previously saved, each organized by case. You can tap on a document to view it again (without having to pay PACER to download a new copy). You can tap and hold on a document in the list to choose to open the document in another app on your iPad that can read PDF files. If you want to send all of the documents from a case at one time, tap the paperclip icon to create and email a .zip file with all of the documents.
This app is probably most useful on an iPad where you can read a document on the large screen, but it works on the iPhone too.
PACER is a useful service, but the biggest complaint is its cost. For example, every time you view a docket sheet, you need to pay to download the docket sheet. And over time, as docket entries grow, that gets more expensive. DkT is built with cost saving and accessibility in mind. For example, as explained above, you can bookmark a docket the first time you view it, and then in the future the app only downloads new entries to limit your additional PACER expenses.
Speaking of costs, Zorn spent a lot of time creating this app, and yet he is giving it away for free. He even made the code open source so that other app developers can learn from his work. I asked Zorn about this, and he told me: "There are two main reasons why I chose to publish it for free and open source. First, I used a lot of open-source code myself, and used a beautiful, free icon set, which is the only way I could have produced a high quality product on my own. Second, this is my first major iOS release, and I'm looking for users, not money."
DkT is obviously a version 1.0 app and I see room for future improvement. For example, I'd like to be able to open a document in another app without having to first save the document and then go to the Documents tab. I'd also like a quick way to access recently viewed cases even if I forgot to bookmark them. But these are minor issues, and DkT is without a doubt the absolute best way to access PACER on an iPad or iPhone. If you practice in federal court, download this app now so that you have it whenever you need it. And thanks to Matthew Zorn for creating such a useful app for the legal community.
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