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Cost/Benefit Analysis of Civil Justice Reform Across Multiple Jurisdictions

Excessive cost and delay have been a chronic complaint about the American civil justice system for more than a century.  Recently, some jurisdictions have implemented procedural reforms and improved civil case automation and staffing that show significant improvements in civil case processing.

The NCSC report summarizes the impact of reform efforts in four jurisdictions and estimates the potential impact in terms of litigant costs for attorneys and expert witness fees.  The four reform projects include: a case management system with specially trained court staff implemented in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court (Miami-Dade County) to manage the 2008-2009 mortgage foreclosure crisis; amendments to pleading and discovery requirements implemented on a pilot basis in New Hampshire; amendments to discovery procedures statewide in Utah; and a comprehensive expedited civil case processing track for cases under $100,000 statewide in Texas.

The precise impact of these reforms varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; however, all of them ultimately had some impact on the settlement rate, time to disposition, or other key case processing measures.  As settlement rates increased and settlement occurred earlier in the litigation process, litigants avoided costs associated with expensive court proceedings such as summary judgment hearings and bench or jury trials.

The paper concludes with a brief discussion on whether reduced litigation costs will result in increased litigant satisfaction, and whether litigation tasks undertaken on their behalf are worthwhile.