For the past twenty-five years, I have made my living as a trial lawyer, plying my trade in courtrooms throughout Texas (and elsewhere), defending individuals and businesses in civil litigation. But the trials have become fewer and farther between in recent years; in Dallas, where I am based, only 1,195 district court jury trials were held in 2011—just one-third the number that occurred in 1996. And it’s not because people have become less litigious, either. During the same time period, the number of lawsuits filed rose 25%. Throughout Texas, from 1986 to 2008, civil jury trials in state courts fell by 60%. For the fiscal year 2012 alone, only 0.4% of civil cases were resolved by a jury or directed verdict in Texas courts.
This is not a problem unique to Texas, but instead is a national phenomenon. Most states report similarly precipitous declines in jury trials, and in 2010, only 2,156 civil jury trials were commenced in federal district courts—meaning that, on average, U.S. district court judges tried fewer than four civil jury trials each that year.