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ABA panel recommends ways to cut cost, length of trial process

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The ''average American'' should have full access to United States courts. And the best way to accomplish this is for lawyers and judges to make the legal process more efficient and pass on the resultant savings to clients.

So says a new study by the American Bar Association (ABA), which was released here over the weekend at the ABA's annual meeting. This report - five years in the making - concentrates on simplifying the pretrial phase of ligation (where the majority of civil cases are concluded); shortening the time consumed by appeals; and using telephone conferencing in lieu of court appearances wherever feasible.

Leonard S. Janofski, former ABA president, chaired the association's Action Commission to Reduce Court Cost and Delay, which conducted the study. Mr. Janofski says several case studies of existing programs - in California, Colorado, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Rhode Island - provide guidelines for state and local bar associations to frame their own programs for unclogging the courts and trimming attorneys' fees.

For example, in Kentucky a combined thrust for judicial efficiency and streamlined pretrail procedures resulted in reducing the time consumed from filing to disposition of a legal matter from 16 months to five months. And a Sacramento, Calif., experiment - which set specific time limits on appellate procedures, including mandating shorter, more succinct legal briefs - succeeded in reducing total appeals time from 14 months to less than eight months.

Further, telephone conferencing - used mainly to negotiate bail, pretrial motions, and even case settlements - resulted in an estimated 50 percent reduction from the cost of an in-court hearing in a comparable matter, a saving of about $150 per motion handled by telephone. Lawyers and judges in Colorado and New Jersey who have litigated by phone claim substantial savings in time and money, which many say they are passing on to their clients.


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