When I started out, appellate records existed only in paper form, and there were only two ways to access them: (1) by checking the record out from the appellate clerk; or (2) by buying a copy from the trial-court clerk/court reporter.

Checking the record out from the clerk was free, but it wasn’t a perfect solution. You had to send a runner or deal with shipping, and some clerks would seal the volumes so they couldn’t be taken apart for copying.

This was not ideal. 

Buying a copy was fine when the client could afford it, but it was sometimes hard to justify the cost in smaller matters.

In either case, you had to maintain a physical file with thousands of pages of paper. And word-search functionality, as a practical matter, did not exist in those days.

Here in the digital age, appellate records are all-electronic, improving access to them in almost every respect. My main complaint these days is that getting the record sent up to the court of appeals still costs more than it should. This can’t be helped if you’re the appellant—trial-court clerks and court reporters determine the price, and paying for the official record is a cost of doing business for most litigants wanting to appeal—but technology has made getting a copy of the record to work from easier, cheaper, and better.

Use the Attorney Portal

After electronic records became mandatory, many appellate clerks made them available to counsel by saving them onto DVDs or sending them over email. The former still required having them shipped or delivered, and the latter still left all control over timing with the clerk.

This all changed with the advent of the Attorney Portal. attorneyportal.txcourts.gov

This secure site adds to the case information publicly available through the courts’ online dockets. Once registered, you can download the official record in your appellate cases for free.

So if you have a case going up on appeal and the trial-court clerk or court reporter offers to sell you a copy of the record being prepared, you can confidently say, “No thanks.” And you don’t need to ask the appellate clerk to make the electronic record available to you. Take advantage of the Attorney Portal instead and get a copy online, at no cost and at your own convenience.