Measuring the Duration of Judicial and Administrative Proceedings

A method of estimating the probable duration of litigation is useful for a variety of purposes. First, the probable duration of a case may, to some extent, determine strategy in litigation since prolonged litigation is often perceived as an appreciable cost to one party and as a benefit to the other. An estimate of the duration of a criminal case, for example, probably influences the respective postures of a defendant and a prosecutor in plea bargaining. Similarly, civil litigants may be able to use an estimate of the probable duration of litigation, together with other factors, in deciding whether to sue, defend, or settle.

Second, a forecast of the probable duration of litigation may help improve the efficiency of our judicial system. On a general level,such an estimate provides information needed in the formation of policy for judicial administration. More specifically, it may help determine the relative efficiency of various courts and administrative tribunals in adjudicating different types of cases and thus provide a valuable aid in assigning cases and staffing courts and tribunals.

Finally, the estimate may be useful in the study of law and social change. The duration of litigation is one quantitative measure of legal activity that, in combination with other legal, social, economic and political data, may permit the development of hypotheses about law and society that can be tested empirically. In this way, an index of the duration of litigation may prove to be a basic working tool for an empirical social science of the law.