Preliminary Investigation: Another federal court resource

Mr. Dove was a gentleman who spent a very great portion of his life in this somewhat gloomy abode of learning. It was not now term time, and most of his brethren were absent from London, recruiting their strength among the Alps, or drinking in vigour for fresh campaigns with the salt sea breezes of Kent and Sussex, or perhaps shooting deer in Scotland or catching fish in Connemara. But Mr. Dove was a man of iron, who wanted no such recreation. To be absent from his law-books and the black, littered, ink-stained old table on which he was wont to write his opinions, was to him, to be wretched. The only exercise necessary to him was that of putting on his wig and going into one of the courts that were close to his chambers; – but even that was almost distasteful to him. He preferred sitting in his old arm-chair, turning over his old books in search of old cases, and producing opinions which he would be prepared to back against all the world of Lincoln’s Inn. — Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds

The federal court system web site helps us narrow down searching for cases by offering a “type of lawsuit” option.

So now, back in pacer, when you get to your main search page–the one with the various boxes to fill in–enter the name of your district court (or the one where the individual or company lives).

Go down to the box saying “NOS” [Nature of Suit]. Under that box is a blue hyperlink to “Detailed NOS listings.” Click there and you’ll get a “type of lawsuit” list.

Each type of lawsuit has a three-digit code number; 440, for instance, is “other civil rights” lawsuits. Pick out whatever number[s] you want to search on, presumably one that bears a stunning resemblance to your own potential lawsuit.

Go back to the main search page and plug in the number. You will get a huge list of all the cases for this type of lawsuit over the past many years. Remember, though, you must have a district court name in the top box.

The huge list of cases is chronological, with the oldest first. Go toward the end of the list and search through the most recent cases to see one (or more) that compares to yours.

If you read complaints that look good to you, i.e., interesting and relevant to your situation, write down the name and contact information of the lawyer representing the plaintiff, and add this information (including the case name) to your LAWYER/LAWSUITS file. You’re continuing to build your own lawyer reference list.

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