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Civil Litigation Research Project - Final Report - Summary of Principal Findings

NCJ Number
D M Trubek; L B Grossman; W L F Felstiner; H M Kritzer; A Sarat
Date Published
95 pages
This large-scale empirical study of civil litigation and its costs found that bargaining and settlement are the prevalent and, for plaintiffs, perhaps the most cost-effective activity that occurs when cases are filed. Also, most ordinary litigation appeared cost-effective from the litigant's point of view.
This study conceptualized litigation as the investment of time and money to secure a return and randomly sampled civil cases that had terminated in 1978 from the Federal court and State courts in the Eastern Wisconsin, Eastern Pennsylvania, Central California, South Carolina, and New Mexico Federal judicial districts. The sampling scheme excluded small claims and slightly underweighed the very large civil lawsuit. The primary data sources for the findings reported in this summary were telephone interviews conducted in 1981 with over 1,300 attorneys from the sample cases. The amount of money involved was an important factor influencing lawyers' decisions to spend time in lawsuits, but moves initiated by the other side were more important in determining hours spent. Lawyers spent more time on cases that advanced their own interests, and increased client control did not affect the time invested. Contrary to what theorists predict, contingent fee and hourly lawyers seemed to behave similarly. Most plaintiffs recovered more from litigation than they paid in fees, and many defendants also gained in that litigation reduced the expenditures they otherwise would have incurred. Plaintiffs did better if their lawyers emphasized settlement. Finally, the study found that the smaller the case, the less likely that the litigation would be cost-effective for the parties involved. Tables, 32 footnotes, and approximately 45 references are supplied.