Corporate Law

Federal contract filings are on a decadelong decline, new report finds

  • Print.


Federal contracts case filings have been in decline since the Great Recession, according to a new report from Lex Machina, a legal analytics company. Released Tuesday, the Contracts Litigation Report analyzed 146,000 federal district court contracts cases between 2009 and 2018.

According to the company, this marks the first time its contracts litigation dataset has been expanded to include 45,000 noncommercial cases, such as individual, government and class actions.

The report is built on “an incredibly broad set of data that can be used by both in-house counsel, outside counsel, just about anyone who wants to take a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening in federal court with common law causes of action,” says Karen Chadwick, the lead author of the report and a legal data expert at Lex Machina.

The new report sheds light on the time it takes to clear various contract litigation benchmarks. Over the past two years, it took about a year and a half for a case to get to summary judgment. While reaching trial took an average of 831 days, or about two and a quarter years.

Among other findings, the report also notes that nearly 25% of contract cases between 2016 and 2018 take place in four jurisdictions: the Central District of California, the Southern District of New York, the District of New Jersey and the Northern District of Illinois. There was not a similar disparity among judges, as the data found that no judge took more than 1% of the national total of contracts cases.

During that same time, LeClairRyan filed more federal contracts claims on behalf of plaintiffs than any other firm. On the defense side, Greenberg Traurig represented the most defendants.

The dataset does not include district court judgments that were altered on appeal.

As for the work going into build the dataset, Rachel Bailey, a legal data expert at Lex Machina, says the software can do a significant amount of the work collecting and flagging relevant data. But human attorney review is still required to parse a judge’s findings correctly.

“There’s lots of variation out there still in legal opinions,” Bailey says. “I don’t think the machines are quite ready yet for that.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.