The Court System Numbers

Part
01
of four
Part
01

US Court Representation

The National Center for State Courts’ Court Statistics Project has provided the number of civil and domestic relations cases with self-represented litigants in selected states. In 2017, there were 126,999 civil cases with self-represented litigants in Minnesota (single tier). In 2017, there were 74,249 domestic relations cases with self-represented litigants in Texas (general tier).

CIVIL CASES WITH SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS

Minnesota (single tier)

Indiana (general and limited tiers)

Missouri (single tier)

Texas (general tier)

Texas (limited tier)

Other states

DOMESTIC RELATIONS CASES WITH SELF-REPRESENTED LITIGANTS

Minnesota (single tier)

Indiana (general tier)

Missouri (single tier)

Texas (general tier)

Texas (limited tier)

RESEARCH STRATEGY

A press search and examination of the data published by the National Center for State Courts’ Court Statistics Project, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Self-Represented Litigation Network, and other databases/organizations did not reveal statistics relating to how many people are unrepresented in federal or local court cases. The Court Statistics Project has provided selected state courts statistics from 2012 to 2017 for civil and domestic relations cases. They include civil cases with self-represented litigants in Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri, Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Data for domestic relations cases with self-represented litigants are available for Minnesota, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas only.
To view the data for civil cases, click the “Civil” tab and select “Civil Cases with Self-Represented Litigants.” To view the data for domestic relations cases, click the “Domestic Relations” tab and select “Domestic Relations Cases with Self-Represented Litigants.” Please note that the Court Statistics Project has defined people who are unrepresented in courts as “self-represented litigants.
Part
02
of four
Part
02

US Solo Practitioner Lawyers

After a thorough and in-depth search of official and federal law statistics, as well as independent law agency reports, the amount of money spent on solo practitioner lawyers in the United States annually is around $60,029,998,800 or $60.029 billion.

Total money spent on Solo Practitioner Lawyers in the United States

  • According to Martindale's 2018 Attorney Compensation Report, the average annual income of solo practitioner lawyers in the United States for the year 2017 was $148,000.
  • From American Bar Associations' 2019 statistics show that there were around 1,352,027 lawyer practitioners in the United States in 2018.
  • From another American Bar Association statistics, solo practitioners represented around 30% of the total lawyer population in 2018.
  • According to the triangulation based on the official American Bar Association and Martindale data, around $60,029,998,800 or $60.029 billion is spent annually on solo practitioner lawyers in the United States.

RESEARCH STRATEGY

To find the amount of money spent annually on solo practitioner lawyers in the United States, we started our research by looking at various statistics and reports from the American Bar Association, FindLaw and Law Department. We looked specifically for information on how much money is spent yearly on solo practitioner lawyers. However, the statistics only contained information related to the population of lawyers and their demographics.
We then proceeded with our triangulation approach. For triangulation, we have used statistics and data discovered during our research.

Triangulation

Our general formula used for triangulation is based on the assumption that,
  • Total amount of money spent on all solo practitioner lawyers annually = Total amount of money earned by all solo practitioners annually
Therefore, now our approach was shifted to finding the total annual income of all solo practitioner lawyers combined. Our formula to find this was
  • Total amount of money earned by all solo practitioners annually = (Annual average earning of solo practitioner lawyers) x (Total number of solo practitioner lawyers in the United States)
We found the annual average earning of solo practitioners for the year 2017 from the Martindale report. We assume that the average pay remains almost the same for the year 2018, with little to no deviation. We also knew that the total number of lawyers in the united states for 2018 was 1,352,027, courtesy of American Bar Association statistics. In the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center’s 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report, it was mentioned that "30% of the respondents to the 2018 Survey are sole practitioners." Since the survey represented the entire lawyer population in the United States, we safely assumed that 30% was the approximate percentage of solo practitioners among the entire lawyer population.
Following this reasoning, our calculation simplified to
  • Total amount of money earned by all solo practitioners annually = (Annual average earning of solo practitioner lawyers) x (Total number of lawyers in the United States) x (percentage of solo practitioners in lawyer population in the United States)
Therefore, according to our formula:
  • Total amount of money earned by all solo practitioners annually = ($148,000) x (1,352,027) x (30%) = $60,029,998,800
Hence, the total amount of money spent on all solo practitioner lawyers annually is $60,029,998,800 or $60.029 billion.
Part
03
of four
Part
03

Court Case Attendance - State Courts

While the exact number of people attending their own court cases in the US could not be located, through calculation, we estimated the number around 65.7 million people. From these, 62.4 million do it in state courts, while the other 3.28 million do it in federal/local courts. Additionally, around 34.5 million pro se litigants attend civil cases, roughly 53 thousand do it for criminal cases, and close to 31.2 million attend traffic cases.

OVERVIEW

  • In recent years, it's become common in US courthouses to have parties with no legal representation of lawyers or professionals while defending a case.
  • The main reason is the high cost of hiring a lawyer, particularly for people with low-income.
  • The less common reasons to become a self-represented or "pro se litigant" is the desire to maintain the control of the case, wanting to appear less adversarial, and feeling more confident on their own.
  • According to an analysis made by Yale Law School and presented again in 2019 by the Procedural Fairness Organization, the scenarios in which self-representation takes place in a state or local court are traffic, landlord/tenant disputes, civil matters, family law, and misdemeanor criminal cases from low-income households.

STATISTICS

GENERAL

  • Between 80% and 90% of litigants don't have legal representation and attend their own court cases even if the other party has a lawyer.
  • In 2016, over 800,000 cases presented in the state court of Georgia had pro se litigants.
  • In 2017, 1.7 million legal problems were brought to the Legal Services Corporation for legal advice and guidance. The corporation gave help to only half of these problems for lack of resources.
  • There are 1,352,027 attorneys currently active in the US, while in 2018 there were 1,342,335.
  • In the US, 2.94% of the lawyers specialize in tax cases, 5.40% in criminal defense, 5.40% in intellectual property, 6.73% in labor and employment, 7.15% in corporate-related cases, 8.69% in real estate matters, 10.93% in personal injury, 22.07% in commercial litigations, and only 30.69% of the lawyers work in civil matters like family law, immigration, health law, traffic, environment, and bankruptcy.
  • In the country, 95% of all cases filed for trial against an individual happen in state courts. There were 83 million cases filed for trial in 2017, and 241 thousand cases filed for appealing.
  • In 2017, there were 354 thousand cases filed for trial against an individual at local/district/federal courts and 52 thousand cases for appeal in local courts.

CIVIL CASES

  • 46 million people go to court each year for civil cases, and more than 75% of these cases have a self-represented litigant.
  • In 2015, a report made by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) about civil litigation found that in 76% of civil cases, one party has no legal representation, in some cases both parties.
  • Although the civil cases include a great number of critical issues for the individual, the law is under no obligation to provide a legal adviser. Some of these issues are domestic violence, child custody, housing, and public benefits.
  • In some jurisdictions, civil litigants are entitled to get a legal counselor, but in most of them, even if the defendant can't afford to pay a lawyer, will be forced to attend and represent himself.
  • Without another choice, some defendants become pro se litigants even if they risk losing an otherwise winning case, having the case dismissed, having to restart the process for a step missed, not resolving the case, or in the worst scenario, having a resolution that goes against them.
  • According to the Legal Services Corporation, 86% of Americans with low-income lack help from legal advisers while defending a civil case or receive wrong advice from non-experts.
  • More than 60 million Americans come from low-income households.

CIVIL — HOUSEHOLD AND FAMILY CASES

  • In eviction cases where low-income tenants are involved, 90% of the landlords have a lawyer while 90% of the tenants don't.
  • In New York City, nearly 50% of the self-represented tenants lost and were evicted, while 90% of the tenants with lawyer won the case.
  • According to the government's Legal Services Corporation, 71% of low-income households in the US faced one civil legal issue in 2016, 54% faced two civil problems, and 24% faced more than six.
  • These civil issues include health care and disability access, housing conditions, domestic violence, and veteran's benefits.
  • In some family courts, the percentage of parties without legal representation or with pro se litigants is higher than 76%.

TRAFFIC CASES

CRIMINAL CASES

  • Many Americans with low income lack the necessary resources to hire a lawyer for criminal cases.
  • 80% of the criminal defendants in state courts don't have the financial means to afford legal representation.
  • The constitution only provides a legal counsel if the criminal defendant is incarcerated.
  • If they are convicted, many criminal defendants who face misdemeanor charges and can't afford or have right to an attorney, risk being punished with significant fees/fines, losing their house, or being deported.
  • In 2017, there were 66,873 new criminal cases filed in the US against an individual, while only 131 cases were against a corporation or group of offenders.

RESEARCH STRATEGY

To determine the number of people attending their own court cases in state and local courts of the US, we began by looking for the number through analysis, reports, studies, and statistics presented by the government and law-related sources like the National Center for State Courts, Court Statistics Organization, Government US Courts website, United States Sentencing Commission, US Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Self-Represented Litigation Network, among others.

These sources brought general information regarding self-representation in court, like the fact that self-representation happens in local and state courts, in cases against an individual facing traffic, landlord/tenant disputes, civil matters, family law, and misdemeanor criminal charges, and who comes from low-income households. Although there wasn't a specific number for the people attending their own court cases, we found enough data points to triangulate and calculate the number of cases filed in state and local/district courthouses by category. Knowing that pro se litigants operate in civil, traffic, and criminal cases only, we made a summation of each category to find the number of people attending their own court cases in the US.

CALCULATIONS

CIVIL

In the US, 46 million people are going to court for a civil case each year. More than 75% of these cases have one party attending their own court case.

46,000,000 x 0.75 = 34,500,000

This means that in the US, approximately 34.5 million people attend their own court cases for civil problems every year.
Knowing that 95% of all cases against an individual happen in state courts, we can calculate that from 34,500,000 self-representing litigants in civil matters, 32,775,000 (34,500,000 x 0.95) do it in state courts, while the other 1,725,000 (34,500,000 - 32,775,000) do it in federal/district/local courts.

CRIMINAL

In 2017, there were 66,873 new criminal cases filed in the US against an individual. From these, 80% can't afford a lawyer and are forced to attend their own court cases.

66,873 x .80 = 53,498.4

This means that nearly 53 thousand individuals who face criminal charges in the US represent themselves.

Since 95% of all cases against an individual happen in state courts, we can calculate that from 53,498.4 self-representing litigants in criminal matters, 50,823.48 (53,498.4 x 0.95) do it in state courts, while the other 2,674.92‬ (53,498.4 - 50,823.48) do it in federal/district/local courts.

TRAFFIC

There are 52 million traffic cases in the US every year. Three out of five people don't have legal representation, so they represent themselves.

Three out of five is 3/5 = 0.6 or 60%.
52,000,000 x 0.60 = 31,200,000.

This means that in the US, approximately 31.2 million people attend their own court cases for traffic issues every year. However, since traffic cases belong to the state courts' jurisdiction, these 31.2 million people indicated attend their court cases in state court.

TOTAL

From our calculations, we know that around 34.5 million pro se litigants are attending civil cases, approximately 53,498.4 attend criminal cases, and close to 31.2 million attend traffic cases.

34,500,000 + 53,498.4 + 31,200,000 = 65,753,498.4

With this sum, we can know that there are approximately 65.7 million people in the US attending their own court cases annually.

Finally, since 95% of all cases against an individual happen in state courts, we can calculate that around 62.4 million (65,753,498.4 x 0.95 = 62,465,823.48) people attend their own cases in state court, while around 3.28 million (65,753,498.4 – 62,465,823.48 = 3,287,674.92) do it in federal court.
Part
04
of four
Part
04

Court Case Attendance - Federal Courts

After an exhaustive search, neither the number of people that attended their own court cases nor a breakdown of the most attended court cases in the U.S. federal court could be determined. However, the research team found that of the 79,704 people charged with criminal cases in the U.S. in 2018, only 1,879 proceeded to trials, with the majority of defendants (90%) pleading guilty.

RELEVANT FINDINGS

  • In 2018, 79,704 people were charged with criminal cases in the U.S. federal criminal justice system.
  • About 2% (1,879) of the defendants requested trials. 90% pleading guilty, while 8% were dismissed.
  • Pew Research reports that in 2018, only 320 of defendants won their cases.
  • Number of federal court trials in 2018
    • 89 immigration offense trials.
    • 499 drug offense trials.
    • 419 property offense trials.
    • 192 violent offense trials.
  • According to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, there were 119,288 initial case completions in the U.S. in 2018. 46,051 (39%) were in absentia removal orders.
  • The Department of Justice reports that in 2018, "89% of all asylum applicants attended their final court hearing to receive a decision on their application."
  • Furthermore, the Center for Immigration Studies reported that "over the last 20 years, 37 percent of all aliens free pending trial failed to appear for their hearings."
  • The report revealed that 2,498,375 foreigners were outside detention during their court proceedings, 1,219,959 were ordered removed. 75% (918,098) of those ordered removed was for not appearing in court.

RESEARCH STRATEGY

To determine how many people attend their own court cases and a breakdown on what type of cases that are attended the most in the U.S. federal court, our first approach was to consult federal statistical databases by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. We found data published by Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) on the "failure to appear" rates of immigration-related cases in the U.S. However, this search attempt did not provide relevant data on general court cases in the U.S. nor the type of cases that are attended the most.

We switched gears to search for pre-compiled data from research publications, expert analyses, and university journals related to the attendance rate to federal court cases in the U.S. We found a publication by Pew Research which provided related data for the percentage of federal defendants charged with different cases that requested trials in 2018 but there was no data on how many of those defendants eventually appeared in court.

With the available data published by Pew Research on the number of federal defendants that requested trials in 2018, we attempted to triangulate relevant data points. We searched for publications by legal agencies, organizations, and other credible media publications for any interview extract or mention on the "failure to attend" or "in absentia" rates on federal court cases. We intended to use this data to determine the absenteeism rate from the available data on the total number of cases. However, we could only find the "in absentia" rates for only immigration cases. As such, we could not proceed with triangulation. The likely reason for the unavailability of the data could be that the Department of Justice does not disclose such data for federal court cases other than immigration.
Sources
Sources