Attorney expertise, litigant success, and judicial decisionmaking in the U.S. Courts of Appeals

Susan Brodie Haire, Stefanie A. Lindquist, Roger Hartley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


In the U.S. legal system, litigants frequently retain counsel to represent their interests in civil cases, particularly when the stakes are high. Scholarly work and anecdotal evidence suggest that variation in the quality of advocacy has the potential to affect litigant success. We examine the relationship between attorney characteristics, case outcomes, and judicial voting in products liability decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Our analysis found some differences in the levels of experience and specialization of counsel representing defendants and plaintiffs and that counsel expertise was, at times, related to litigant success. In a multivariate model of decisionmaking, judges were less likely to support the position of plaintiffs when they were represented by counsel appearing for the first time before the circuit. When defendants were represented by attorneys who did not specialize in relevant areas of the law, judges were more likely to decide in favor of the plaintiff. These findings suggest that those attorneys who do not meet a minimum threshold of expertise will be less likely to find judicial support for their client than other attorneys. Such attorneys may be less successful as a result of their lack of familiarity with the law and appellate process or because they make poor choices regarding the likelihood of success on appeal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)667-685
Number of pages19
JournalLaw and Society Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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