According to a new study conducted for a judicial conference, corporate counsel almost unanimously agree that civil litigation is too expensive, while 90 percent say that it takes too long.
I almost laughed when I read that. I’m not sure what type of civil litigation they’re referring to, but in almost every case I’ve been involved in — whether business litigation or personal injury litigation — the delay and expenses have been driven by the defendant businesses or insurance companies. Generally, plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ lawyers want to move cases. Plaintiffs want resolution. They want the case to be over. Additionally, cases get more expensive as the cases go on, and those expenses are deducted from the client’s recovery. Once basic discovery has been done, then most of the time we know enough to either settle or try the case. Extending the time just costs the client more. Likewise, plaintiffs’ lawyers generally get paid on a contingency fee basis. We don’t get paid until it’s over. You can see why the lawyers might want to resolve the case sooner rather than later.
But not so with defense lawyers. Perhaps I’m jaded, but it often seems like the defendant’s only goal is to drag a case out as long as possible. Even a small car wreck case — which involves little discovery and 2-4 days of trial — often is met with delay. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve called defense lawyers lately requesting a trial date for a case to push it to resolution only to be told that the lawyer can’t agree to a trial setting more than a year out. Ridiculous.
So that’s why I find it laughable to have corporate counsel complain about the delays and costs of litigation. From our perspective, let’s get the cases resolved. Let’s get the discovery going so we can all know the basic facts. Once we do that, let’s give it a shot at settling, and if that fails, let’s get a quick trial. If corporate counsel wants to reduce the cost and delay, we can do that.