Sunday, February 6, 2011

What Judges Think of the Quality of Legal Representation

How well do lawyers represent their clients? It's a hard question to answer. One approach would be to ask the judges who observe the lawyers at work, and that's just what Judge Richard A. Posner and Professor Albert H. Yoon have done: What Judges Think of the Quality of Legal Representation, 63 Stan. L. Rev. 317 (2010).

Here's the short version of their findings, from the abstract:
We find that judges perceive significant disparities in the quality of legal representation, both within and across areas of the law. In many instances, the underlying causes of these disparities can be traced to the resources of the litigants. The judges’ responses also suggest that they respond differently than juries to these disparities, and that the effect of these disparities on juries may be more pronounced in civil than in criminal cases.
The civil areas where federal trial judges saw the greatest disparity were civil rights and personal injury/malpractice; the civil areas where state trial judges saw the greatest disparity were family law and personal injury/malpractice. In civil rights and tort cases where there was a disparity between the sides' lawyers, it was generally the defense counsel who was better.

Judges said that intellectual property and commercial litigation cases seldom had a great disparity between the sides' lawyers. These lawyers were rated between "good" and "excellent" -- i.e., at the top of the scale.
About law schools, judges were in general agreement. The most common response in each judge group was that law schools should provide more coursework oriented to instilling practice-oriented skills. The second most popular response was expansion of core curriculum—-that is, courses required of all students—-to ensure a stronger foundation for practice. More than two-thirds of the judges in each group proposed changes in law school curricula, while no more than 10% in any group recommended higher admissions standards. Recommendations to make tuition more affordable drew slightly higher but still modest support (ranging between 5% and 14%).
p. 338 (footnote omitted)

The whole article is worth a look: there are lots of interesting nuggets, and the footnotes cite other intriguing studies about lawyers' effectiveness. (A little more detail is in this post in Trial Ad (and other) Notes.)

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