Escalating Cost of Civil Litigation Task Force

In January 2011, the BOG approved a charter for the Task Force on the Escalating Cost of Civil Litigation. Seattle attorney and former BOG member Russ Aoki chairs the group, which is assessing the costs of civil litigation in the Washington state courts and recommend means to control costs. Costs are defined in the charter to include attorney time as well as expenses advanced for the purpose of litigation. The task force will survey neighboring and similarly situated states to compare the litigation costs in those jurisdictions with those seen in Washington.

The task force includes 10 WSBA members — including at least two who practice in the federal courts, and one who is licensed and practices in Oregon — a judge from each level of court (limited jurisdiction, superior, and appellate), and a representative of the court clerks' association.

The Task Force first met on July 12, 2011. Additional general meetings have taken place on August 18, 2011, October 3, 2011, November 7, 2011, January 25, 2012, April 25, 2012, and May 23, 2012.

Presentations were made to the Task Force by WSBA Executive Director Paula Littlewood on the state of the legal profession; King County Superior Court Presiding Judge Richard McDermott on proposals to change the civil judicial system in King County; Jeff Hall, State Court Administrator, of the Administrative Office of the Courts, on statistics and trends examined by the AOC; and Task Force member Don Jacobs, a former president of the Oregon Trial Lawyers Association, on the expedited civil trial system in Oregon. U.S. District Court Judge James Robart also presented on changes to the federal civil system to address the cost of litigation.

In its ongoing discussions, the Task Force has considered expenses such as, discovery costs, experts, filing fees, and other out-of-pocket expenses. It determined the focus of the work should be primarily on attorney time.  The focus on legal fees was confirmed by the numerous research articles reviewed by the Task Force.

The ECCL Task Force identified the following factors to consider:

 1.    Attorney time (attorney time = legal fees)

 2.    Case management (case schedules, trial dates/fast track)

 3.    Case type (family law, simple personal injury matters, complex litigation, etc.)

 4.    Access to justice (opportunities to make legal services more affordable)

 5.    Pro se litigants
 6.    Public perception of legal system; impact on the diverse communities of Washington

 7.    Use of alternative dispute resolution

 8.    Litigation costs (expert services, medical records, etc.)

 9.    Whether economic motives exist that could increase the cost of litigation

The following subcommittees have been created:

Pleadings and Motions Practice

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Trial Procedure

The remainder of 2012 and the early part of 2013 will be focused primarily on allowing the subcommittees to complete their work and report to the entire Task Force.