Texas Attorney Tom Melsheimer Touts Civil Justice Improvements

Veteran courtroom lawyer offers recommendations for less expensive, faster trials

Aug 29, 2013, 14:44 ET from Fish & Richardson

DALLAS, Aug. 29, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Acclaimed Texas attorney Thomas M. Melsheimer is relying on his experiences in hundreds of courtroom trials to recommend improvements to the country's civil justice system.

Mr. Melsheimer, Managing Principal of the Dallas office of Fish & Richardson, and attorney Stephen D. Susman, founder of Houston's Susman Godfrey L.L.P., offer their insights in an article appearing in the current edition of the University of Texas School of Law's The Review of Litigation.

In "Trial by Agreement: How Trial Lawyers Hold the Key to Improving Jury Trials in Civil Cases," the attorneys provide a series of recommendations for how lawyers and judges can help ease the burden for reluctant jurors and improve the administration of justice in the nation's civil courts.

In 2012, Texas state district courts were home to fewer than 1,200 civil jury trials, a 40 percent drop from 1997. Federal courts nationwide saw a similarly astonishing decline with juries hearing only 135 civil cases last year, a 37.5 percent drop from 1997.

Mr. Melsheimer is recommending a series of improvements that can be put into place by practicing lawyers and judges alike, including establishing hard time limits on trials. The authors contend that even complex cases can be decided in two weeks or less, and they write that shorter trials would encourage more potential jurors to participate rather than asking to be removed from jury service.

In addition to time limits, other recommendations include:

  • Allowing jurors to directly question witnesses;
  • Interim arguments on evidence to help jurors better understand significant case developments as they happen;
  • Preliminary substantive jury instructions to help jurors focus on factual connections between evidence and issues at trial;
  • Allowing jurors to discuss evidence before a case concludes; and
  • Adoption of the "Trial by Agreement" model conceived by Mr. Susman to encourage more efficient court interactions while trimming clients' litigation costs.

The decline in civil jury trials in Texas and across the U.S. is based on a variety of factors, including the widespread use of alternative dispute resolution methods such as arbitration and mediation; the growing cost of trials; and the time needed to take cases to trial, among other reasons.


SOURCE Fish & Richardson