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August 28, 2008 6:45 PM

Federal Court Statistics for 2007 Suggest Civil Courts Functioning As Expected

Posted by Zach Lowe

We love stats here at The Am Law Daily. So we were thrilled to find, through Overlawyered.com, a report released last week from the Administrative Office for the U.S. Courts on just about everything that happened in U.S. federal courts in 2007. We've spent the last couple days poring over 400-plus pages and dozens of charts to spot trends, changes, and other notable incidents.

What did we find?

Two things jumped out immediately, and they appeared at first to be positive signs that the civil court system is functioning as most experts expect it to:  an increasing number of trials and faster resolutions.

-One table shows a massive jump in the number of civil cases in U.S. District Courts that went to trial: 9,852, up from 3,555 in 2006 and 3,899 the year before--numbers that had everyone lamenting the "vanishing civil trial." A full 4.1 percent of civil cases made it to trial last year, the highest percentage in nearly 20 years.

-10,000 fewer cases took three or more years to settle in 2007, or a total of 17,446. That's substantially less than the 27,577 in 2006 and the 40,000 tin 2005. Only 6.6 percent of cases on the docket were pending for three or more years (the firgure was 11 percent in 2006 and 15 percent in 2005).

-Bankruptcies were actually down in 2007, primarily due to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. As we all know, that trend isn't holding steady in 2008.

The report's numbers have raised a lot of questions, and The Am Law Daily has consulted several number-crunchers and litigation gurus for some answers. Even our experts were surprised with the findings. What we found was a major statistical anomaly--as it turns out, nothing's really changed.
In fact, according to this general table, little has changed in terms of the raw number of cases filed, terminated, and pending. The changes tend to be limited to individual districts or specific areas of law.

Check back tomorrow for more on what we found and on how our experts interpret the numbers.

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