Do Civil Cases Take Too Long?

Civil Law book Some people associated with the court system around the United States seem to think so.  In New Jersey in May 2013, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner created a Committed titled “Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Expedited Civil Matters” to take a very large look at how cases could be hastened along without any detriment to the litigant’s due process.

According to the study conducted by Rabner, civil cases can often take upwards of two years to get to a trial date from the initial filing.  Most of this delay is due to a long drawn out discovery process.  New Jersey has decided to take a unique approach to help expedite the process.

For litigants in certain counties, who meet certain conditions, and who do not wish to opt out of the pilot, lawyers who have disputes during discovery would no longer have to wait for a formal hearing from the judge to have the dispute resolved.  If the attorneys cannot work out an agreement without needing help from a judge, the judge has the right to hold an informal hearing quickly and provide a resolution without scheduling something far in advance. Other recommendations include that no more than 2 depositions be taken in “simple” lawsuits (5 for complex) and that parties are given less time to answer interrogatories. 

The Institute for Advancement of the American Legal System has done further studies on this issue using data from over 6 states and they have come up with three conclusions:

  1.  There are certain steps in the civil suit process that, if they take longer, seem to correlate with the overall length of the civil process overall.  For example, setting a trial date early on in the process tend to lead to shorter-term dispositions.  One unusual finding is that the amount of motions filed in a civil lawsuit does not necessarily correlate to length of disposition; however, motions that are filed as early in the process did correlate to a shortened timeline.
  2. Even though many courts have uniform rules related to civil lawsuits, these standard set of laws do not mean that litigants have the same experience between the different courts.  However, when courts set schedules early on in the process, encourage early filings and strongly encourage all lawyers stick to the schedule, they can dispose of civil lawsuits much more quickly than courts that allow extensions and delay setting a trial date.
  3. Simply changing the rules will not speed up the process. Instead, individual judges must become responsible for moving cases along more quickly and must become transparent in terms of reporting of timeline.

Although some of these findings seem very simply like common-sense thoughts, it is important to note that these are backed up by the data.  By knowing what is really happening within our court system that slows down the process, we can better be prepared to fix the issues and move along our cases in order to get relief to our customers as quickly as possible.

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