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Preliminary Findings: Satisfaction High Among PACER Users
An overwhelming majority of users of the federal Judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system is satisfied with it, according to a survey conducted for the Administrative Office by a private consulting firm.
The on-line satisfaction survey was made available to all 325,000 active PACER users in late 2009, and 86 percent of users who completed it said they were satisfied.
PACER is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case information from federal courts over the Internet. PACER provides access to 30 million cases and more than 500 million documents in federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts. Since the early 1990s, more than one million PACER accounts have been registered. (To learn more about the PACER system, go to www.pacer.gov.)
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The survey, conducted by an independent consulting group, is part of a comprehensive research effort using qualitative and quantitative research techniques. The effort, which will be completed later this year, will result in recommendations to be used to identify and prioritize key areas for making service improvements and, ultimately, increasing user satisfaction.
In a related survey, some 3,055 PACER users—a statistically significant 22 percent of the 15,200 account holders contacted in mid-December 2009—gave PACER high grades, overall a satisfaction rate of 4 out of 5.
User types giving the highest overall satisfaction scores to PACER include creditors and service providers to the legal sector, followed by commercial businesses. Users in the legal sector and litigants—the two largest groups of PACER users—are also among the most satisfied.
Users at educational and research institutions gave the lowest overall satisfaction rating. These are less-frequent users. The survey indicated that satisfaction rates climb steadily as frequency of use increases. Another finding: There is no significant difference in satisfaction with PACER between those respondents who use both PACER and the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files system and those who use PACER only.
Respondents who reported being aware of the PACER Service Center (PSC) as a source of help are significantly more satisfied with PACER than those who were not aware of the PSC when completing the survey.
In focus group interviews with 234 PACER users, conducted between August and October of 2009, the service’s strengths were identified as being more cost-effective, faster, and more efficient than previous methods of accessing federal case information; the convenience of anytime remote availability; and reliable and straightforward system access. The overwhelming majority of users view PACER as a good value and the authoritative source for obtaining federal court records. It should be noted that about 50 percent of PACER users did not receive a bill in 2009, as a result of fee exemptions and waivers.
“I can get court papers from all around the U.S. easily, quickly, and inexpensively,” said one respondent. Another said, “I appreciate having a central location to access federal court information.” And still another offered this praise: “I use PACER almost every day and seldom have a problem with it. PACER provides me with a wealth of information almost instantaneously.”
Opportunities for improvement included an expanded search functionality, with more options and flexibility, and an ability to narrow searches. Also mentioned was more streamlined navigation, with fewer clicks and “fewer pages to sort through.” Results also indicate that communications with PACER users about new features, as well as more efficient ways to use current features, would increase user satisfaction.
“I would like the query and case sections to have more options for the search. Being able to set a time period would be of great help in managing files,” one respondent said. Another said, “At times, it is difficult to get into the system, and the descriptions down the left-hand side are not very user-friendly.”
During fiscal year 2009, usage statistics show that 52 percent of PACER use focused on bankruptcy courts; 40 percent on district courts; 5 percent mixed; and 2 percent on appellate courts.