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Trial Lawyers in the Era of the Vanishing Trial

Much to the disappointment of the great trial lawyers at Rittgers & Rittgers, very few cases in the modern era are tried in front of a jury. This trend was analyzed in depth in the now seminal article The Vanishing Trial: An Examination of Trials and Related Matters in Federal and State Courts.1 The author finds a startling 60% decline in the absolute number of trials between the mid-1980s and 2004.

Even though the number of trials is declining, you still need a seasoned trial lawyer for your case. An experienced trial lawyer views every case through the most effective lens: the chance that the client's case would prevail in front of a jury.2 With this question firmly in the lawyer's mind, every decision leading up to that point, and to the eventual plea-bargain if there is one, will be more sound. The trial lawyer will not advise his client to plead guilty to a charge on which the client would prevail at trial. The trial lawyer will not over- or under-promise his client at the outset based on unrealistic goals. And the trial lawyer will not make emotional decisions, but rather strategic ones. In short, the trial lawyer is the better lawyer. It is fair to ask any lawyer that you are considering how many jury trials he or she has taken to verdict, and whether or not that lawyer enjoys trying cases.

Why are trials declining? Sadly, part of the answer is circular: fewer trials means that fewer lawyers are getting trial experience, which in turn makes those lawyers more reluctant to take their cases to trial.3 Basic trial advocacy skills are in a state of atrophy across the bar. There are rays of hope, however, in the form of the blossoming trial advocacy competitions for students across the country. These exist at the high school, college, and law school level. Observers of the highest levels of these competitions will see that trial advocacy skills in those circles are alive, well and flourishing.

The attorneys at Rittgers and Rittgers are doing their part to keep trials from vanishing. Our founder Charlie H. Rittgers was recently inducted into the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL)-perhaps the premier organization of trial lawyers in the nation (attorney Gus Lazares also received the "Top Oral Advocate in the Nation" Award from the ACTL in law school). Apart from taking pride in the number of cases that we successfully try, attorneys Neal Schuett and Gus Lazares also coach the Miami University Mock Trial Team. In April of this year Miami's team won the National Championship Tournament (#1 of 713), defeating Yale in the final round. Neal and Gus spent many years competing in these competitions, and the Miami Championship team benefited from the combination of their educational and practical experience with trial advocacy.

As the author of The Vanishing Trial tell us, trials, and hence experienced trial lawyers, are vanishing. This means that finding an experienced trial lawyer for your case should be a priority. You need look no farther than the attorneys at Rittgers & Rittgers.

1 http://epstein.wustl.edu/research/courses.judpol.Galanter.pdf

2 See Id. at 521-22.

3 See Id.

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