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After two long years, Attorney David Christensen and the Conference of Chief Justices Civil Justice Improvements Committee have issued their draft recommendations for civil litigation reform to the national Conference of Chief Justices. The work could change the way civil lawsuits work across the country.
In May 2014, the Conference of Chief Justices, the highest judicial officers in each state and U.S. territory or commonwealth, put together a committee full of nationally renowned judges and civil litigators to figure out how to reform the civil litigation process for the better. Attorney David Christensen, of Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan, was one of only two attorneys in Michigan to have the honor of serving on the committee. Christensen says:
“The legal system can be confusing and complex for the average citizen seeking justice through litigation. The committee’s goal has been to help state courts improve access to justice by simplifying procedures and reducing cost and delay. The other members and I have worked hard to develop guidelines and best practices that I think policymakers across the country will find helpful if our recommendations are adopted.”
That hard work included a nationwide study released in 2015 called “The Landscape of Civil Litigation in State Courts,” which surveyed the types , complexity, processes, and resolutions of civil cases across the country. According to Rebecca Love Kourlis, Executive Director for the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, the study showed that:
“A large percentage of cases in state courts are small contract cases: cases in which there is often a self-represented defendant and a dismissal or a default. The percentage of larger, complex cases is tiny by comparison.”
Because of this, and other study findings, the Civil Justice Improvements Committee recommended several civil litigation reforms, designed to provide timely, cost-effective resolutions to civil lawsuits. This February, the committee recommended the following reforms:
(1) Tiered case management systems: Includes scaled use of technology and human resources according to case needs. (2) Early identification of complexity: Includes use of civil case intake analysis/online tools to capture key complexity factors. (3) Continual monitoring of complexity status: Includes instituting review procedures to address new developments or earlier misidentifications. (4) Dedicated staff and coordination: Includes having one judge for legal/evidentiary or conflict archetype, and one judge or team of judges to hear/manage logistical archetype. Also includes establishing methodologies for coordination of logistical archetype cases. (5) Investing in case management education: Includes providing case management training for court staff and judges before and during assignment to a complex case docket. (6) Smart use of technology: Includes refining and communicating case management objectives in consultation with technology experts and vendors.
It isn’t clear yet whether the advice will be taken. There will certainly be some hurdles to implementing the reforms recommended by the committee, which the Conference of Chief Justices will have to sort out. But what is clear is that it is time to reform our civil litigation system and make it more accessible to everyone.