Report on the Survey of Judges on the Impact of the Economic Downturn on Representation in the Courts

By: Linda Klein. Published by: ABA Coalition for Justice. Published in July 2010.

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The ABA Association Coalition for Justice conducted a survey of state trial judges to determine the effect of the economic downturn on the judicial system. The survey focused on three topics:

Whether judges had seen a change in the number of court filings, and if the number had increased, what types of cases had seen the most growth. Whether judges had seen a change in the number of people represented by attorneys. What impact self-representation had on cases, considering the party’s success and the court system’s efficiency and continued integrity.

Overall, the study found that number of cases had increased, particularly in the areas of foreclosure, domestic relations, consumer issues, and housing matters other than foreclosure. A majority of the civil judges surveyed said that fewer parties had representation and that a lack of representation negatively impacted self-represented parties. A majority of judges also said that the court was negatively impacted when a party was not well represented, specifically claiming that court procedures were slowed and pro se litigants used more staff time for assistance. A significant percentage of judges surveyed had also seen a rise in self-represented litigants who did not qualify for court-appointed attorneys.


The study used a “snowball” sampling of state court judges, as there is no national framework to reach out to state judges. The ABA contacted judges through the ABA Judicial Division as well as state court administrators, judicial educators, and leaders of state judicial organizations. There was a potential pool of approximately 20,368 state judges nationwide of general, limited, and specialized jurisdictions. 1,176 judges took the survey; 986 completed it. Though the sample was not drawn based on a probability method, the sample was 20% larger than the sample of 784 necessary to be 95% certain that the findings were within +/- 3.5% with a population exceeding 20,000.


Nine states had significant participation: Georgia (124), Florida (108), Texas (91), Louisiana (83), New York (74), Minnesota (59), Washington (48), and Tennessee (37). 66% of the respondents were from courts of general jurisdiction, 27% from courts of limited jurisdiction, and 7% from courts of special jurisdiction, slightly over-representing general jurisdictions and slightly under-representing special jurisdictions. 30% of judges surveyed came from rural communities and 69% from metropolitan areas, a slight over-representation of rural communities.

Of civil judges surveyed:

  • 53% said that the number of cases filed in 2009 had increased, 29% had decreased, and 18% had not changed.
  • Of those that had seen an increase in cases, 61% had seen an increase in foreclosure cases, 49% an increase in domestic relations cases, 49% in consumer issue cases, and 26% in housing matters other than foreclosures.
  • 60% said that fewer parties had representation, 37% had seen no change in representation, and only 3% said that representation had increased. 62% said that outcomes were worse without representation, 37% said there was no impact, and 3% said that outcomes were better.
  • For judges saying that outcomes were worse, the most common problems for unrepresented litigants were:
    • Failure to present necessary evidence (94%)
    • Procedural errors (89%)
    • Ineffective witness examination (85%)
    • Failure to properly object to evidence (81%)
    • Ineffective arguments (77%)
    • 78% said that the court is negatively impacted by parties not well represented.
  • Of judges claiming a negative impact:
    • 90% said that court procedures are slowed and 71% said that pro se litigants use more staff time.
    • 46% found that the number of self-represented litigants who did not qualify for court appointed attorneys had increased.

Categories: Courts, General/Unspecified Clients, Researchers and Academics, State-Specific

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