Free Law Project

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Free Law Project
FoundersMichael Lissner, Brian Carver
Founded atEmeryville, CA
Registration no.C3594588
Executive Director
Michael Lissner
Michael Lissner, Brian Carver, Ansel Halliburton Edit this at Wikidata (Former)

Free Law Project is a United States federal 501(c)(3) Oakland-based[1] nonprofit that provides free access to primary legal materials, develops legal research tools, and supports academic research on legal corpora.[2] Free Law Project has several initiatives that collect and share legal information, including the largest [3] collection of American oral argument audio,[4] daily collection of new legal opinions from 200 United States courts and administrative bodies, the RECAP Project, which collects documents from PACER, and user-generated Supreme Court citation visualizations. Their data helped The Wall Street Journal expose 138 cases of conflict of interest cases regarding violations by federal judges.[3][5]

Free Law Project was founded in 2013 by Michael Lissner and Brian Carver.[6]


Free Law Project has a number of initiatives, including:

  •,[7] which provides a searchable and API-accessible website with court dockets, 900,000 minutes of oral argument recordings, more than eight thousand judges, and more than three million opinions. All of the opinions on Court Listener are interlinked by a citator, and the graph of citations is available via an API.
  • RECAP Project,[8] which allows users to automatically search for free copies of documents during a search in the fee-based online US legal database PACER, creating a free alternative database at the Internet Archive and Court Listener.
  • Judge and Appointer Database, which provides biographical and electoral information about more than 8,000 American judges and appointors.[citation needed]
  • Database of Reporters, which provides information about more than 400 legal reporters.
  • Courts-DB, which provides information about more than 700 US courts.[9] All of Free Law Project's work is open source and available online.


RECAP[10] is software which allows users to automatically search for free copies of documents during a search in the fee-based online U.S. federal court document database PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), and to help build up a free alternative database.[11] It was created in 2009 by a team from Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy and Harvard University's Berkman Center,[10] and is now maintained as part of the Free Law Project. The name "RECAP" derives from "PACER", spelled backward.[12]

RECAP is available as a Mozilla Firefox add-on, Google Chrome extension, and Safari extension.[13] For each PACER document, the software will first check if it has already been uploaded by another user. If no free version exists and the user purchases the document from PACER, it will automatically upload a copy to the RECAP server, thereby building the database.[11] The original RECAP implementation uploaded documents to the Internet Archive; as of late 2017, the Free Law Project version now uploads documents to the Free Law Project, with a promise to mirror that data to the Internet Archive on a quarterly basis.[14]

PACER continued charging per page fees after the introduction of RECAP.[15]

Prior to the creation of RECAP, activist Aaron Swartz set up an automatic download from an official library entry point to PACER.

Swartz downloaded 2.7 million documents, all public domain, representing less than 1 percent of the documents in PACER.[16] These public domain documents were later uploaded to RECAP and made available to the public for free.

However, the automated downloading triggered a government investigation. No criminal charges were filed, because PACER had provided lawful access and the documents copied were in the public domain, and the case was closed.

Some courts have acknowledged RECAP's free distribution of documents. A small handful of PACER users receive fee-exempt access (fee waivers are granted on a district-by-district basis), and a condition of the fee waiver generally requires that fee exempt users not further distribute documents they receive under the waiver, pursuant to Judicial Conference policy.[17] Some courts such as the District Court for the District of Massachusetts display a prominent reminder on its ECF page: "fee exempt PACER users must refrain from the use of RECAP".[18]


CourtListener,[6][19] is an open source software project to archive and host court documents.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Justin Rau (October 5, 2021). "Crime and Courts". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 21, 2022.
  2. ^ "Free Law Project". Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Coulter Jones; James V. Grimaldi; Joe Palazzolo (September 28, 2021). "How the Journal Found Judges' Violations of Law on Conflicts". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 24, 2022.
  4. ^ "Milestone: CourtListener has 365 Days of Continuous Oral Argument Listening". June 8, 2016. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  5. ^ Kate Linebaugh (October 1, 2021). "The Federal Law That 138 Judges Have Broken". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 25, 2021. this guy out in Oakland .. works for this nonprofit called the Free Law Project .. project going on for several years, to obtain from the administrative office of the courts, every financial disclosure for every federal judge, and digitize it.
  6. ^ a b Taylor A. Vega (September 29, 2013). "Free Law Project provides access to legal materials and research for public". The Daily Californian. Retrieved November 25, 2022. The Free Law Project, a new California nonprofit, launched Tuesday and will provide free and easy access to legal material and research for anyone to download.
  7. ^ Court Listener, Free Law Project, Wikidata Q117745639
  8. ^ RECAP, Wikidata Q7276289
  9. ^ "Announcing a New Open Database of Court Information, IDs, and Parsers". March 10, 2020. Retrieved March 17, 2021.
  10. ^ a b "RECAP Documents Now More Searchable Via Internet Archive". RECAP The Law. Center for Information Technology Policy. 2013. Archived from the original on June 1, 2016. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Johnson, Bobbie (November 11, 2009). "Recap: cracking open US courtrooms". The Guardian. London.
  12. ^ McCullagh, Declan (August 14, 2009). "Plug-in opens up federal courts, with your help". CNET. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
  13. ^ Free Law Project. "RECAP Project — Turning PACER Around Since 2009".
  14. ^ Lissner, Michae l (November 13, 2017). "The Next Version of RECAP is Now Live". Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  15. ^ Singel, Ryan (October 5, 2009). "FBI Investigated Coder for Liberating Paywalled Court Records". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
  16. ^ Lee, Timothy B. (February 8, 2013). "The inside story of Aaron Swartz's campaign to liberate court filings". Ars Technica. Retrieved May 31, 2013.
  17. ^ Lissner, Michael (April 13, 2017). "A Complete Chronology of PACER Fees and Policies". Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  18. ^ "CM/ECF - USDC Massachusetts - Version 5.1.1 as of 12/5/2011-United States District Court".
  19. ^ Tarpley Hitt (December 1, 2020). "I Read Court Documents for Fun. Hear Me Out". The New York Times. Retrieved November 25, 2022.

External links[edit]