Just, Speedy, and Inexpensive?
An Evaluation of Judicial Case Management Under the CJRA
The new legislation, the CJRA, required each federal district court to assess its dockets and to develop a plan for civil-case management to reduce costs and delay. To establish an empirical basis for assessing new procedures adopted under the Act, the legislation also provided for an independent evaluation. Ten district courts, denoted "pilot" courts, were required to adopt plans that incorporated certain case management principles. Expectations were high that the implementation of those principles would have substantial effects.
The mandated evaluation, which focused on the consequences of the pilot program, was conducted by RAND's Institute for Civil Justice (ICJ). In a comprehensive five-year effort, the ICJ research team, led by James Kakalik, examined the effects of the CJRA's case management principles on time to disposition, costs, and participants' satisfaction and views of fairness.
To preview the main findings of the evaluation:
- The CJRA pilot program as implemented had little effect
on time to disposition, litigation costs, satisfaction, or
views of fairness.
- Some case management procedures--for example, certain
types of alternative dispute resolution--have no major
effects on cost and delay.
- However, a package of procedures containing early judicial management, early setting of a trial date, and shorter discovery cutoff could reduce time to disposition by 30 percent, with no change in direct litigation costs, satisfaction, or perceived fairness.
Overview of the CJRA EvaluationThe CJRA's pilot program required ten federal district courts to incorporate certain case management principles into their plans and to consider incorporating certain other case management techniques. To permit comparisons, the evaluation included ten other districts; these districts were not required to adopt any of the case management principles or techniques. Neither the pilot nor the comparison districts had the option of not participating in the evaluation.
The pilot and comparison districts, which are comparable and represent the full range of districts in the United States, encompass about one-third of all federal judges and one-third of all federal case filings.
The pilot districts were required to implement their plans by January 1992; the other 84 districts, including the comparison districts, could implement their plans any time before December 1993.
The case management principles and techniques mandated in the pilot program fall into four basic categories:
Differential case management: Tailoring the type of
management to the needs of the case, rather than processing
every case the same way.
Early active judicial management: Having the judge play an active role rather than leaving management of the case to the lawyers.
Judicial management of discovery: Having the judge set time limits and perhaps other controls on the process by which each side discovers information about the other side's case.
Referral of appropriate cases to nonbinding alternative dispute resolution such as arbitration, mediation, and neutral evaluation to supplement the normal court processes.
To evaluate the effects of these principles, the ICJ team compiled the largest and most comprehensive database on the federal courts to date. Selecting a random sample of more than 12,000 cases, they followed them from filing to termination. They surveyed lawyers, litigants, and judges associated with those cases, and received responses from judges on about 3,000 cases, from about 10,000 lawyers, and from about 5,000 litigants. They also used data from court databases and records; from districts' plans, rules, and documents; and from time sheets reflecting a judge's work on each case. Much of this information had never before been available for independent analysis.
The team used multivariate statistical analyses to estimate the relationship between case management and time, cost, satisfaction, and perceptions of fairness. They also interviewed hundreds of people to place the study findings in the context of how the court system operates.
How the Courts Reacted to the CJRA
The CJRA called for the creation of advisory groups in each district. The groups' mandate was to assess the condition of the civil dockets, identify the principal causes of delay and excess cost, and make recommendations, which the court was free to accept or reject, for dealing with these problems. The advisory groups were also to provide input to an annual reassessment for each district.
In general, the advisory groups approached their mission with dedication and conscientiousness, and most courts adopted their advisory group's recommendations.
All of the pilot and comparison districts created plans that complied with the loosely worded statutory language of the Act. But the amount of real change varied widely. Some districts did not plan major changes, and, in some districts, planned changes were not fully implemented. Thus, if the spirit of CJRA was experimentation and change, then the districts met that spirit to varying degrees.
Table 1 illustrates this point with respect to differential case management. There are two principal approaches to differential case management, both of which comply with the language of the CJRA. In the judicial discretion approach, the judge individually tailors management for each case. In the track approach, each case is assigned to a specific management track such as standard or complex; the type of management that the case receives is at least partly determined by the track assignment.
Pilot Districts Did Not Fully Implement Differential Case Management
|Before CJRA (12/91)||10 districts||0 districts|
|Pilot district plans||4 districts||6 districts|
+ 5 districts de facto
|Measures of Cost||Early||Not Early|
|Costs per litigant (median)||$12,000||$9,000|
|Lawyer work hours (median)||95||60|