In 2016, Massachusetts lawyer Robert Ambrogi wrote a blog post about a then-new service that attempted to “rank” attorneys based on their court results. The founders were two undergrads from Harvard University and the first covered state was Massachusetts (it appears they no longer offer this service). The question arises whether court outcomes are the best way to “rate” lawyers and consequently why people hire attorneys. What is their role in the modern legal era? How do you define a “win” at trial?
The reality of the modern court system is that there are very few actual trials. In NJ civil courts, even before COVID skewed the results, about 1% of cases filed in the Civil Part of Law Division (cases with claims above $15,000) were resolved via a trial. That equates on average to 2 trials per county per week. That means that 99% of cases were disposed of in other ways:
- Some never have proper service to notify the defendant of the case, thus there is no case to pursue.
- Some have defendants who are properly served but never answer and engage in the case. Defaults such as these result in a proof hearing and a default judgment is often awarded.
- A number of cases are dismissed via a motion by one side or the other. Common motions include Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Dismiss.
- The rest generally are settled by the parties.
If 99% of cases never see a trial, what is the value of grading lawyers by their trial skills? Most of the lawyer’s work on a case falls into the category of case management:
- Managing the discovery process
- Filing motions
- Advising clients
- Negotiating a settlement
Also, how do you define a win or loss at trial? If the demand is $100,000 and the court awards $50,000, is that a win? How about $10,000? $95,000? What about a non-monetary case such as custody and visitation? Defining a win can be challenging.
Also, what about lawyers who take on challenging cases? If you graded medical doctors by survival rate, oncologists would look horrible and plastic surgeons pretty good.
A good lawyer helps clients navigate a complicated field both in what the law says and how the law is applied. A good lawyer keeps expectations realistic and knows how to work with their client as a team. And a good lawyer knows how to get a case settled since that’s where most of them end up. These are pretty subjective, but then again so are trial statistics. And here’s a tip: “tough” lawyers usually just tick everyone else off, making a settlement that much more difficult.
Mediation can be part of the settlement process. If you’re looking for a good mediator to help you resolve your case, contact me to discuss.