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Effectiveness of Measures To Increase Appellate Court Efficiency and Decision Output

NCJ Number
Journal of Law Reform Volume: 21 Issue: 3 Dated: Spring 1988 Pages: 415-442
Date Published
28 pages

This study assesses the changes that State appellate courts have made to increase decision output.


The study applied a multiple time-series research design to State court data, with the dependent variable being the number of appeals decided per judge. The impact of seven categories of changes designed to increase decision output was determined. The study found that adding judges typically produces a corresponding increase in the number of appeals decided, provided that filings also increase. Assigning temporary judges to appellate courts also helps to increase the volume of appeals decided. The most effective procedural changes are those that reduce the burden of writing and publishing opinions. Deciding cases without opinion greatly increases court output; and reducing the number of opinions published has a lesser, but still substantial, impact. Reducing the number of cases argued also has a moderate impact on productivity. The fact that curtailing opinion writing and publication and limiting arguments increase appellate court efficiency does not, however, lead to a recommendation that these practices be adopted. Many have argued that such changes reduce the quality of justice provided by the courts. The creation of intermediate courts or the expansion of their jurisdiction in itself increases the productivity of the entire appellate system. This occurs even after controlling for contemporaneous changes, such as adding judges, using three-judge panels, and routing minor appeals to the appellate courts rather than to general jurisdiction trial courts. Changes found to have very little or no impact include reducing panel size, adopting summary procedures, and adding staff attorneys. Adding law clerks has a small impact. Overall, this study concludes that unless more judges are added or efficiency measures adopted, the average appellate court will soon fall hopelessly behind due to increases in the number of filings. 72 notes

Date Published: January 1, 1988