After working in law firms for ten years as a librarian, I am very much familiar with the resource CNS, aka, Courthouse News Service. What I didn’t realize is that it is largely unfamiliar to people outside of the legal industry. So, consider this your introduction and primer on this legal news resource that has a lot of free components, with some subscription advanced features.
Overall, consider CNS as a legal news service for civil litigation (as opposed to criminal law) in the U.S. Essentially, their free offerings include articles written by CNS staff about a variety of court cases. Their paid subscriptions likely go beyond what a casual OSINT researcher would need, but know that they can contain more in-depth information about court cases like court documents and other insight. What a lot of lawyers value the most about the CNS subscription is the access to what are called Dingers. Dingers are up-to-the-minute updates about filings and motions made in court cases. It’s such a big deal that there’s even a free App for it — The NEW CNS Mobile Dinger App : Motion Granted! These alerts can be crucial when you are watching a particular case.
Let’s take a tour of the CNS website. Starting from the left to the right on the dashboard.
(1) Subscribers — It’s where you can log in or get information to inquire about subscription information. Unfortunately, I never found on the site a good break down of what all the subscription contains and the costs. In my previous line of work, we all just knew who they were and what they did, and the (ahem, expensive) subscription information was just a given of what people had to pay to get these Dingers and other court news. Fun fact, there is a rotating photo of courthouses around the U.S. on this page.
(2) Back Issues — This is a cool free feature that acts like it’s own little Wayback Machine. You can select a past date from a calendar and see a PDF of the main CNS website page from that date, with hyperlinked stories. Sometimes, these news items will also contain links to court documents — also at no charge. I’m unable to tell how far the archives go back, as the interface is, how does one say, clunky.
(3) Search — Interestingly, the Search and Daily Brief query pages look almost identical, but yet yield different results. If you have a specific topic you are looking for, this is perhaps the best place to start. Clicking through will lead you to an article written by a CNS author and, if you are lucky, that article will contain
(4) Daily Brief — another place to search for specific case information using keywords. My sample search using the keyword “cybersecurity” yielded some results and links to PDFs of court documents. Notice the “Advance Search” feature and all the options you have to refine your search. The Daily Brief will take you more directly to court case documentation, whereas the aforementioned Search will take you to a CNS-authored article first.
(5) Law Pubs — The only link here is to the CNS Entertainment Law Digest, which is a mix of their own news stories written by CNS authors along with items from press outlets. It doesn’t appear to be kept current. If you are really interested in Entertainment Law, there are better resources for that like THR, ESQ and others.
(6) Columns — Like the name states, this is the part of the CNS where they host their Op-Ed types of articles. These names are known to me from once working in the legal world, but I don’t think they are household names. Nonetheless, it’s an opportunity to read legal opinion pieces — like lawyers v. raccoons!
More CNS Website Links
At the bottom of the CNS main website page, there are some more links to resources that probably go unnoticed.
I already wrote about the Columns part. Look at the ones named Law, National, Regional, and International. These are pages of mostly out of date legal news from both CNS writers and press writers. Most of the articles I clicked on were from 2017. Clearly, not a part of the website that CNS is maintaining.
If you are looking for court documents, there are more straightforward sites like PACER or individual court websites you can search to get information more quickly. The value of the Courthouse News Site is the commentary provided by their writers and the free PDF links to court documents.
The subscription features that CNS offers are worthwhile, if you are doing significant legal research or lawsuit monitoring. Otherwise, I don’t see the value in a subscription for a casual user.