Top court filing statistics from around the country

Top Court Filing Statistics From Around The Country
Did you know over 40 million lawsuits are filed each year? Here are some more interesting statistics about courts and their filing practices from across the United States — both state and federal. 

For us stat nerds who want to know a thing or two about court statistics across the United States, we have a wealth of resources to draw from.

We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting court stats and broken them down for you to take a look at.

Ask any judge or court clerk, and they’ll tell you they’re busy. But what does that mean? Do they write a lot of opinions… hear a truckload of cases… or plow through thousands of cases filed in their jurisdictions?

To find out what “busy” means, here are some interesting details and statistics about courts and their filing practices from around the United States—both state and federal.

How many lawsuits are filed each year?

Quite a few, if you examine the numbers!

It’s estimated that there are more than 40 million lawsuits filed every year in the United States, and the total number of registered lawyers exceeds one million. The statistics show the number of lawyers in the United States from 2007 to 2022 was approximately 1.34 million.

How many lawyers are there nationwide?

In the United States, there is a legal profession comprising over 1.3 million lawyers. To be more precise, as of January 1, 2022, the ABA National Lawyer Population Survey reported a total of 1,327,010 active lawyers across every U.S. state and territory.

2022 data from the American Bar Association on the nationwide population of lawyers indicates a total of 1,327,010 licensed, active attorneys in the United States. The total represents a 0.9% decrease since 2018.

Over the course of the last year, from 2021 to 2022, the survey noted a marginal decline of one-tenth of 1% in the count of active lawyers. This decrease was primarily attributed to a change in how Alabama accounted for its lawyers.

Historically, Alabama did not distinguish between active and inactive lawyers. In 2022, they began tracking only active lawyers, resulting in a reduction of 2,843 in the Alabama count. Notably, the total nationwide lawyer count decreased by 900, according to the survey, with Alabama’s adjustment accounting for this reduction and then some.

Over the past decade, the legal profession in the United States witnessed notable growth, with the number of lawyers increasing by more than 80,000, marking a 6.6% rise from 2012 to 2022.

Comparatively, the 21st century has seen a slower rate of growth in the legal profession. In the previous century, spanning from 1900 to 2000, the number of lawyers surged by a remarkable 793%, ascending from 114,460 to just over 1 million, equating to an average annual growth rate of nearly 8%.

Since the year 2000, the number of lawyers in the United States has expanded at an average annual rate of about 1.4%, increasing from 1,022,462 in 2000 to 1,327,010 in 2022, which represents a 30% increase.

The most substantial upswing in the number of lawyers occurred in the 1970s, with a remarkable 76% increase, elevating the count from 326,000 in 1970 to 574,000 in 1980.

Throughout much of the 20th century, the legal industry experienced more gradual growth. It took 50 years for the number of lawyers to nearly double, progressing from 114,000 in 1900 to 221,000 in 1950. Subsequently, it took less than 30 years for this number to double again, advancing from 221,000 in 1950 to 464,000 in 1978.

Here are the top five areas with the largest number of active attorneys in residence, along with the percentage change from 2018:

  1. New York: 177,035 (+5.8%)
  2. California: 170,044 (+0.2%)
  3. Texas: 90,485 (+5.2%)
  4. Florida: 78,244 (-1.3%)
  5. Illinois: 63,422 (-1.1%)

The top five areas with the fewest resident attorneys are North Dakota (1,694), Virgin Islands (776), Guam (270), North Mariana Islands (128), and American Samoa (59). Compare these numbers to 1878, when there were just over 64,000 attorneys in the country!

Lawsuit statistics for California courts

This is a summarized version of the 2022 Court Statistics Report for California’s Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, and superior courts for the fiscal year 2020–21:

California Supreme Court:

  • Issued 59 written opinions during the year.
  • Received 6,522 filings and completed 6,311 dispositions.
  • Handled 12 automatic appeals related to death judgments and resolved 22 such appeals via written opinions.
  • Ordered the depublishing of 28 Court of Appeal opinions during the fiscal year.

Courts of Appeal:

  • Managed a total of 15,781 contested matters, consisting of 10,171 records of appeal and 5,610 original proceedings.
  • Concluded 20,159 dispositions, including 14,682 appeals and 6,024 original proceedings.
  • Of these dispositions, 9,147 appeals were resolved with written opinions, 3,397 without written opinions, and 2,137 without a filed record.
  • In the case of original proceedings, 301 were disposed of with written opinions, and 5,302 were resolved without written opinions.
  • Across the state, approximately 9% of Court of Appeal majority opinions were published.

Superior Courts:

  • In FY 2020–21, superior courts statewide received over 4.4 million case filings, categorized as follows:
    1. Civil: This category encompassed unlimited civil cases (seeking over $25,000) with 222,381 filings, limited civil cases (seeking $25,000 or less) with 351,685 filings, and small claims cases (seeking $10,000 or less without representation) with 62,076 filings.
    2. Criminal: Included felonies (186,319 cases), misdemeanors (505,210 cases), and infractions (2,628,554 cases).
    3. Family and Juvenile: Comprised marital filings (dissolutions, legal separations, nullities – 114,238 cases), other family law filings (e.g., paternity, child support – 183,719 cases), juvenile delinquency cases (19,520 cases), and juvenile dependency cases (37,755 cases).
    4. Probate, Mental Health, Appeals, and Habeas: Consisted of probate cases (54,795 cases), mental health cases (89,064 cases), civil and criminal appeal cases (1,791 cases), and criminal habeas corpus cases (7,273 cases).

The most substantial changes in statewide filings for superior courts over the past year were mainly driven by an increase in infractions and misdemeanors in the criminal category, juvenile delinquency cases, and small claims cases. There were also increases in probate, felony, marital, mental health, civil unlimited, and petitions for a writ of habeas corpus case categories.

Where are most cases filed?

The Court Statistics Project reports that more than 95% of U.S. cases are filed in state courts. In 2021, there were an estimated 63 million cases filed in state trial courts. State appellate courts had 131,000 appeals filed.

What are the court stats for the federal courts?

U.S. Supreme Court Justices decide which cases they will hear, and it’s roughly 80 each year. They decide on another 50 without hearing arguments. The cases they choose usually address constitutional issues or federal law. The Supreme Court gets about 7,000 requests to hear cases per year, so there are many cases that don’t get heard.

Statistics for 2022 found that U.S. Courts of Appeals filings totaled 42,900 — a decrease of 24% since 2013. Civil cases filed were recorded at 309,102, an increase of 14% over 2013.

Research also shows that criminal cases filed were at 71,111, a reduction of 23% since 2013. This is largely because of a reduction in appeals related to drug offenses (down 27%), immigration offenses (down 27%), and property offenses (down 14%). Roughly 76% of criminal appeals involved four offense categories: drugs, immigration, firearms and explosives, and property offenses (including fraud).

Bankruptcy court stats

In  2022, bankruptcy courts registered 383,810 new case filings, which marked a 12% decrease compared to the previous year and a substantial 51% reduction from the numbers recorded in fiscal year 2019. Among the 90 bankruptcy courts, 79 experienced a drop in the number of petitions filed during this year.

Consumer petitions, which predominantly encompass non-business filings and make up roughly 97% of all bankruptcy petitions, saw an 11% decrease, totaling 370,685. On the other hand, business petitions dropped by 19%, resulting in 13,125 cases.

Breaking down the types of bankruptcy filings, those submitted under Chapter 7 experienced a significant 26% reduction, while Chapter 11 filings decreased by 15%. In contrast, petitions filed under Chapter 13 showed a notable increase, rising by 27%.

Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court saw a decline in the total number of cases filed, dropping by 8% from 5,307 filings in the 2020 Term to 4,900 filings in the 2021 Term.

This decrease also affected the in forma pauperis docket, which decreased by 5%, with 3,477 filings in the 2020 Term compared to 3,288 filings in the 2021 Term. In the paid docket, there was a more substantial drop, with a 12% decrease from 1,830 filings in the 2020 Term to 1,612 filings in the 2021 Term.

During the 2021 Term, the Court heard arguments in 70 cases and disposed of 63 cases through 58 signed opinions. This represents a slight reduction compared to the 2020 Term, when 72 cases were argued, and 69 were disposed of through 55 signed opinions.

Additionally, in the 2021 Term, the Court issued seven per curiam decisions in argued cases.

Circuit Courts of Appeals 

When looking at some of the individual Circuits, we see that filings rose by 31 appeals in the Ninth Circuit (up 7%). Filings fell by nine appeals (down 14%) in the First Circuit, by seven appeals (down 12%) in the Tenth Circuit, down by five appeals (down 9%) in the Sixth Circuit, and by one appeal (down 3%) in the Eighth.

However, filings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit rose 11%.

The largest numeric increase was in appeals arising from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which jumped by 134 appeals to 680 (up 25%). These 2016-17 numbers show the first time this court surpassed appeals arising from the U.S. District Courts.

United States District Courts

In 2022, the Federal District Courts recorded 274,771 civil cases, marking a 20% decrease compared to the previous year. A significant portion of these filings was linked to a multidistrict litigation (MDL) regarding earplug product liability, which was mostly centered in the Northern District of Florida.

This MDL alone accounted for 83,654 filings in 2021 and 34,410 filings in fiscal year 2022. Excluding the MDL cases, the total number of civil case filings dropped by 8% to 240,361, representing a 19% decrease from fiscal year 2019.

Cases involving diversity of citizenship (disputes between citizens of different states) experienced a 37% reduction, totaling 105,212. Personal injury cases dropped by 48%, amounting to 70,933, primarily due to the inclusion of MDL cases within these categories.

Federal question cases, which involve actions under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States where the United States is not a party, decreased by 3%, resulting in 131,131 cases.

Cases in which the United States was the defendant decreased by 9% to 35,589, with a significant reduction in Social Security filings, down 31% to 13,370.

Prisoner petition filings also declined for the second consecutive year, decreasing by 10% to 7,811. Cases in which the United States acted as the plaintiff decreased by 13% to 2,839.

On the criminal side, the federal district courts registered 68,315 criminal defendant filings in 2022, marking an 8% decrease from the prior year and a 26% decrease from the fiscal year 2019.

The most significant categories of criminal defendant filings were drug offenses, which decreased by 15% to 19,589, and immigration offenses, which decreased by 1% to 19,148.

More court statistics on judicial caseload for the U.S. Court of Appeals

In 2022, there was a notable 7% reduction in case filings across the 12 regional U.S. Courts of Appeals, resulting in a total of 42,900 appeals, marking a decline of 3,265 appeals.

This decrease primarily stemmed from lower numbers of appeals related to administrative agency decisions, original proceedings, miscellaneous applications, civil appeals, and bankruptcy appeals, which collectively outweighed an uptick in criminal appeals.

Civil appeals saw a decrease of 939 cases, totaling 22,794 appeals. Within this category, prisoner petitions exhibited an 11% drop, while civil appeals not initiated by prisoners increased by 2%.

In contrast, there was a 5% rise in criminal appeals, reaching a total of 10,355 appeals. This increase was primarily attributed to a 19% surge in appeals related to firearms and explosives offenses and a substantial 50% increase in appeals related to immigration offenses.

Notably, a significant portion of criminal appeals — around 75% — involved four main offense categories, which included drugs, firearms and explosives, property offenses (including fraud), and sex offenses.

Appeals of administrative agency decisions also witnessed a decline, specifically a 24% reduction down to 5,695 appeals. This decrease was mainly due to fewer appeals challenging decisions made by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which accounted for 87% of all administrative agency appeals and constituted the largest category of such appeals in every circuit except the DC Circuit.

Original proceedings and miscellaneous applications experienced a collective decrease of 23%, resulting in 3,396 cases.

This reduction was largely influenced by a substantial 34% decline in original proceedings related to second or successive motions for writs of habeas corpus, resulting in 910 fewer proceedings.

Notably, approximately 60% of original proceedings were associated with second or successive motions for writs of habeas corpus, while 37%  were related to writs of mandamus.

Additionally, out of the 440 miscellaneous applications reported, motions for class actions comprised 43% of the total.

Lastly, there was a 5% decline in bankruptcy appeals, with a total of 660 cases filed in this category.

Which are the largest federal courts?

The Central District of California is the largest federal district by population. That district includes five counties that make up the Greater Los Angeles metro area. The greater Los Angeles area is estimated to have nearly 20 million residents.

New York City and the adjacent metropolitan area are divided between the Southern District of New York (which includes Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester County) and the Eastern District of New York (which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau County, and Suffolk County). The Southern District of New York (41) and the Central District of California (28) are the largest federal districts by number of judges.

Which are the busiest and slowest state courts?

In 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, California state courts disposed of nearly 11,000 cases. New York’s tally was over 10,000; Florida saw roughly 17,600 cases; and Texas about 5,800.

On the other end of the spectrum, the South Dakota Supreme Court disposed of just 385 cases; Nebraska’s highest court 323; and the Connecticut Supreme Court handled just 207. The lowest number of cases disposed of was in the Indiana Tax Court: 110.

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