Top 5 most important judicial analytics metrics
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The judge in your case has immense discretion to decide the pace and outcome of your case. Given this truism, what judicial qualities can you measure in advance to best set you and your client up for success?
Understanding judicial analytics metrics can go a long way to help position yourself for optimal results. Such metrics are most useful when you have both a summary and detailed understanding of the judge. But on which data elements should you focus specifically to get the most value? Let’s take a look at the top five judicial analytics metrics to assess and why.
1. Caseload and speed
Looking at the volume of open cases on the judge’s docket can be very revealing. The judge’s caseload volume can be an indicator of how much time and energy she and her staff have available for your own case. A busy judge may be more stressed and looking to make quicker decisions and rulings to move through her docket. A heavy caseload on the docket may mean slow going if the judge’s approach is to distribute time and energy more evenly, so more cases mean less time and energy on yours.
Alternatively, a judge with a lighter docket may feel less time pressure and may be able to devote more time to the nuances of your case. It really boils down to the specific judge and how she personally handles her caseload volume. But all things being equal, it is far more likely that a very busy judge simply won’t be able to devote significant time to your case, so you should focus on narrow issues before the court and write with extra clarity and brevity—always good advice, of course—but even more essential when the judge is overwhelmed. Understanding the judge’s caseload is also helpful in projecting the financial impacts on budgets and costs and keeping stakeholders apprised of expected fast or slow outcomes.
2. Favorability toward plaintiffs or defendants
Your judge’s history in ruling predominately for plaintiffs or for defendants is an analytics metric to add to your assessment list.
Looking for pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant trends across various case and motion types can reveal a judge’s hidden preference for one type of party over another. Knowing, for example, that a particular judge strongly favors landlord defendants in real estate litigation matters when compared with her peers would give you a significant advantage in such a case, regardless of which side you represent.
Awareness of the judge’s predilections can help you adjust your case strategy, brief writing and settlement posture to be more appealing to the judge, and it helps you keep your client better informed—all while appearing as the knowledgeable professional that you are.
3. Motion ruling history
A component of a judge’s pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant leaning is motion practice outcome history.
You should comprehensively review your judge’s motion practice analytics, with specific focus on dispositive motions or motions likely to be relevant to your case’s particulars. Look for consistent patterns in motion practice rulings or strong grant rate deviations compared to the jurisdictional averages to identify tendencies, and look at aberrations to uncover what triggered the judge to rule differently than usual. How do the judge’s tendencies relate to your specific case? Looking at your judge’s analytics metrics and underlying rulings can identify what arguments she found persuasive and help you be proactive and better prepared with your motion strategy and caselaw selection, and build stronger, more successful arguments in court.
4. Bench trial ruling history
The judge’s prior outcomes in bench trials in cases similar to yours are also of immense value.
Such bench trial outcomes can help project the likelihood of success in your case at bench trial. See what worked or didn’t work in those cases, as success stories and even failures can help you formulate your approach and guide your litigation strategy.
Your judge’s history in bench trial outcomes can also be critical information to have for your settlement vs. go-to-trial decision. If your judge has a history of bench trial outcomes that would be unfavorable to your client, you may try to move your client toward settlement. Indeed, comparing the settlement rate of cases such as yours before this judge with the settlement rate of other judges in similar cases can help further assess trial outcome risk. And of course, no strategy assessment is complete without considering your judge’s bench trial judgments with respect to monetary damages.
If you know in advance that the judge materially deviates from the jurisdictional average, you can act accordingly and prepare for a quick settlement or take the case into trial knowing you have increased odds of a big plaintiff win.
5. Peremptory challenge filings
In states where parties have the option to file a peremptory challenge to the judge early in the case, reviewing such challenges against your judge can help you assess fit.
If your judge has been subject to a higher-than-average level of peremptory challenges by a particular type of party in a particular type of case, it is a sign that local lawyers consider this judge “bad” for that type of case or party.
Using judicial analytics tools to discover the “wisdom of the crowds” with respect to local lawyers’ assessments of judges is just one of the many ways modern the lawyer is using litigation analytics to find hidden patterns and benefit his clients.
The modern lawyer need no longer accept that judges are a “black box.” Rather, judicial analytics metrics reveal previously impossible to know facts and trends about the person controlling the outcome of your case. Such judicial analytics metrics create a historical framework you can utilize to be ready for history to repeat itself, as it often does. Doing “homework” on your judge is a key way to be prepared and, as the judge is your target audience, knowing what she is receptive to or tends to reject can only help you make better strategic and tactical decisions, better arguments and keep your client better informed and feeling comfortable with your considerable hourly rate.
Rick Merrill is the founder and CEO of Gavelytics. Before founding Gavelytics, Merrill spent the better part of a decade as a BigLaw litigator, working primarily on large real estate and other commercial disputes.
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This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.