Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Global Litigation Rates: The US is Not the Leader

For years we have heard in the news, in the press, in articles, blogs, etc., that the US is "the most litigious society in the world". I have always understood that comment to mean that we Americans sue one another far more than any other country. I've taken that statement in stride, knowing that it is not so (having done the research), but it seems time to provide a few facts to perhaps dispel the myth, or at the very least further the discussion as it bears heavily on the topic of legal technology, how it gets used, what are the most useful solutions and frankly the cost of those solutions.

Two sources seem to have gone unnoticed. First, in his book “Exploring Global Landscapes of Litigation”, (Baden-Banen: Nomos, 1998), Christian Wollschlager notes that the litigation rates per 1,000 people shows that the US is well down the list of the world's most litigious countries. Without having read the book I refer second to the fact that in his draft testimony before the House Committee on the Judiciary of June, 20, 2004, Theodore Eisenberg, Henry Allen Mark Professor of Law at Cornell University includes Wollschlager's data and relies heavily on it. In that study, Wollschlager found the following:

Country Cases per 1,000 Population

• Germany 123.2
• Sweden 111.2
• Israel 96.8
• Austria 95.9
• U.S.A. 74.5
• UK/England & Wales 64.4
• Denmark 62.5
• Hungary 52.4
• Portugal 40.7
• France 40.3

Source. Christian Wollschlager, Exploring Global Landscapes of
Litigation Rates, in Soziologie des Rechts: Festschrift fur Erhard
Blankenburg zum 60. Geburtstag 587-88 (Jurgen Brand and Dieter
Strempel eds., 1998).

Granted, the study is a bit dated as is the prepared testimony, but can things really have changed so much? Eisenberg's draft testimony alone is worth a read and I'm going to try to find a copy of Wollschlager's book. Of course, litigation rates alone don't define the issues surrounding the impact of litigation on society; jury awards, insurance payouts and rates, etc. contribute greatly. But as a legal technologist I'm more interested in the questions this poses for the legal marketplace in its use of legal technology.

I'm going to think about this issue a bit more and look for others to weigh in. I think the issue bears on the use of legal spend management systems, matter management systems, ebilling systems, litigation management systems, and the like. There are issues and questions such as why these technologies are not more prevalent in these more litigious societies, or why they are not more widely used outside of the US? Questions also arise as to whether the systems which are out there are overpriced and therefore not more widely used, antiquated or too "US-focused", or whether users, lawyers, paraprofessionals and administrators, don't use these systems for discernable reasons.