As you know, I recently moved back to the Lehigh Valley to open my own law practice. When I was putting together a business plan, I looked at statistics on types of cases being handled in the area. I looked at Lehigh County's stats, since I'm practicing here and it's the third-largest county in the state. I was fascinated by what I found.
It seems that very few cases go to trial. Consider this: In 2012, there were 5,132 cases disposed in Lehigh County. Of that, 32.6% went through ARD (essentially a pre-trial diversionary program). A staggering 58.8% were disposed through guilty pleas. How many actually went to trial? 53. Out of 5,132 cases, only 53 actually saw trial; that's 1.1%. If I look at just my caseload over the last two years, I've taken far more than 1.1% of my cases to trial…and I'm just one person. So, it would seem the majority of attorneys in the area don't see even one trial per year.
The civil side isn't much better, though civil law has somewhat of a reputation for settling and not making it to trial. Of 8,565 civil cases available for processing, 1,060 reached settlements. There are a variety of other ways to dispose of cases in the civil arena, but in the end only 62 total cases went to trial. 62! It's hard for me to wrap my head around these numbers.
I've practiced in many counties throughout Pennsylvania and have now spoken to numerous attorneys in the Lehigh Valley. I can tell you from experience that there are only a handful of attorneys that I've interacted with that actually enjoy litigating cases. Far too many are eager to churn and burn, especially DUI cases. To these attorneys, criminal cases, and particularly DUIs, are open and shut cases; not only are they not worth fighting, but some attorneys don't know enough to attempt it. I even came in contact with several judges who actually got annoyed because I took cases to trial where there was a valid defense. But why?
I don't know if it's an age thing, a training thing, a money thing, or just pure laziness. But I've proven you can be successful in fighting criminal cases, including DUIs. In fact, I've been successful in more than one DUI trial. Then again, I also have advanced training in DUI defense, cross-examination, and other areas of litigation that help me be a more effective lawyer.
The stats support what I've experienced; in most counties, the majority of ARD cases are DUIs, and DUIs are far and away the most common type of crime charged in Lehigh County. Yet, as you can see from the stats, very few are litigated.
I like to think that attorneys, both criminal and civil, are doing everything in their power to effectively fight for and protect their clients. But statistics don't lie; 1.1% is almost nothing. 62 out of 8,565 is almost nothing.
It's not something I understand or for which I have an explanation. I'm a litigator. I went into the areas of law I did because I like the courtroom. I like trial; it's where I'm at my best and most confident. But I know people who have gotten into criminal defense and civil litigation who hate trying cases. In fact, I knew a lawyer who focused his practice on DUI defense and who, for whatever reason, was one of the go-to lawyers for people charged with a DUI. He hadn't conducted a trial in 20 years.
What does this mean for you? It means if you want someone who is going to fight your case, you need to be very selective when choosing an attorney. It means you'll need to find someone who isn't afraid to litigate – someone like Fliszar Law Office, LLC.
Why do you think cases aren't making it to trial? Keep the conversation going in the comments.