I came across a tweet talking about unpublished opinions in Texas and whether practitioners, to be safe, have to use Westlaw and Lexis to search for those opinions.
It cites a legal research blog post titled “Practioners Beware… Research on Westlaw / Lexis is a Necessity in Texas?”, which in turn discusses a St. Mary’s Law Journal article critical of this change to the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure:
The amendment is flawed because it makes memorandum opinions precedential even though those opinions are only readily available on Westlaw and Lexis. This has occurred in an era when only 60% of attorneys use fee-based online research services (i.e., Westlaw or Lexis) for state case law research.
It’s true enough that you need to go online to find these opinions, since they are not collected and bound in paper. But you don’t need to pay to do so. Texas already publishes slip opinions online. If these slip opinions are the only reason you’d think of paying for Westlaw/Lexis, (( My view: What’s with a two-year service contract for using a website? If they want a two-year contract, they should at least give you a discount on an iPhone. )) this free alternative should make you happy.
Search Thirteen Courts of Appeals in One Box
Texas has fourteen courts of appeals. Luckily, the opinions in thirteen of those (all but Dallas) can be quickly searched in Google by including the following operator within your search query:
If you want to focus your results on a particular court, such as the appellate district your case is in, just add that to the operator. For example, “site:3rdcoa.courts.state.tx.us/opinions” restricts the search to opinions coming out of the Austin Court. I actually find this far less frustrating than trying to properly scope these searches in Westlaw, for example. (( Did Westlaw ever fix the problem where you couldn’t limit your results to just El Paso or Fort Worth because those courts had two words in their names? That became amazingly frustrating. ))
Once you get the hang of the “site:” search operator, Google searches can be a little (more) like magic.
Dallas Requires an Extra Step
Is it perfect? No. Texas has one outlier court of appeals, whose website is unlike all the others. That requires one extra search from you. The Dallas Court’s opinions can be searched at this link: (( The Dallas Court does not let Google index its opinions. So, the only way I know to search those opinions is using the court’s own website. )) http://www.5thcoa.courts.state.tx.us/search_o.htm
So, two searches can quickly cover all fourteen courts. (( The riddle is how to cite these cases once you find them. I wish Texas had an accepted non-commercial citation format. But this is a great way to find them. ))
I agree that would be nice if there were a unified search box for these opinions, but one could probably be built pretty quickly out of spare parts, a little scripting glue, and the existing Google index. If there is interest in a project like that, I’d be happy to help. I also have strong opinions about how the search results could be more useful to practitioners.
And the Texas Supreme Court?
The Texas Supreme Court doesn’t issue unpublished opinions, so it’s not really affected by this rule. But you may still want to search its opinions electronically.
The Texas Supreme Court’s official website offers nice search options. For certain kinds of searches on currently pending cases, you can use my own website devoted to tracking the Texas Supreme Court.
But there are times you want to do a really quick search and don’t want to walk through the menus.
The same Google trick can help here. The best search operator to use is “site:supreme.courts.state.tx.us/historical”, which captures written opinions as well as the order lists in which petitions are granted or denied.
Don’t want to remember that? You’re welcome to use the “Search Opinions and Orders” box at the far left of this blog page. Just enter your search terms, and this “site:” trick is done for you.